Generally speaking, unless the parties have otherwise agreed, spousal support obligations are always modifiable based upon a showing of a material change in circumstances. (Lepis v. Lepis). Obviously, the loss of employment by the paying spouse can constitute such a material change in circumstance. The issue of modification of spousal support when an obligor loses employment and obtains lesser employment was specifically addressed in the September 10, 2014 amendment to the alimony statute. N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(k) in order to create uniformity in how courts deal with this issue.
This amendment has been open to interpretation and has recently been intelligently explained in the trial court decision of Mills v. Mills written by Judge L.R. Jones of Ocean County (and approved for publication on October 7, 2016). The Mills case is instructive as to what standard applies when an obligor loses his job and seeks a reduction or modification of a support obligation based upon obtaining a lower- paying job. This case helps interpret the 2014 amendment to the NJ alimony statute N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(k) by finding that when an obligor loses his jobs and obtains replacement employment at a substantially lower salary that the Court in addition to looking at the ten (10) factors established by the statutory amendment in considering a modification application must essentially look to two questions: (1) was the choice to take a lower paying job reasonable under the totality of the circumstances and (2) if so, what if any resulting adjustment of support is fair and reasonable to both parties.
An interesting part of this case is that the Court interprets the September 2014 amendment to the alimony statute as applying to cases even if the parties divorced prior to the amendment (i.e. that the statute can be retroactively applied) so long as the parties did not have a written agreement applying a different standard or the issue has not already been litigated or adjudicated by the Court.
To learn how this case may impact your payment or receipt of support please contact Georgia Fraser, Esq. of Fraser Family Law Office, LLC to schedule your consultation. (609)223-2099.