What Can You Do About Your New Jersey Alimony Obligation if You Are Laid Off and Are Offered a Lower-Paying Job?
On September 10, 2014, Governor Christie signed into law the New Jersey Alimony Reform Act.
That Act included a provision which had not been in the New Jersey Alimony statute, and had been addressed by New Jersey family court judges based on the decisions in previous court cases.
This provision, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(k), lists ten (10) factors for a New Jersey family law judge should consider when deciding an application by a non-self-employed party to modify his or her alimony obligation. Those factors are:
(1) The reasons for any loss of income;
(2) Under circumstances where there has been a loss of employment, the party’s documented efforts to obtain replacement employment or to pursue an alternative occupation;
(3) Under circumstances where there has been a loss of employment, whether the party is making a good faith effort to find remunerative employment at any level and in any field;
(4) The income of the other party; the other party’s circumstances; and the other party’s reasonable efforts to obtain employment in view of those circumstances and existing opportunities;
(5) The impact of the parties’ health on their ability to obtain employment;
(6) Any severance compensation or award made in connection with any loss of employment;
(7) Any changes in the respective financial circumstances of the parties that have occurred since the date of the order from which modification is sought;
(8) The reasons for any change in either party’s financial circumstances since the date of the order from which modification is sought, including, but not limited to, assessment of the extent to which either party’s financial circumstances at the time of the application are attributable to enhanced earnings or financial benefits received from any source since the date of the order;
(9) Whether a temporary remedy should be fashioned to provide adjustment of the support award from which modification is sought, and the terms of any such adjustment, pending continuing employment investigations by the unemployed spouse or partner; and
(10) Any other factor the court deems relevant to fairly and equitably decide the application.
However, the New Jersey Alimony Reform Act specifically stated that it did not modify the duration of alimony ordered or agreed upon, or other specifically bargained for contractual provisions that had been incorporated into a final judgment of divorce or dissolution; a final order that had concluded post-judgment litigation; or any enforceable written agreement between the parties.
Therefore, there was some uncertainty as to how New Jersey family court judges should now deal with post-judgment alimony modification applications for parties who had been divorced before September 14, 2014.
In a case entitled Mills v. Mills, one New Jersey family court judge recently provided some guidance on that issue.
In Mills v. Mills, the parties had been divorced in 2013, and the ex-husband now filed a motion to reduce his alimony obligation after losing his long-term job because his position had been eliminated by a company downsizing, and deciding to take a lower paying job rather than remain unemployed.
The Mills judge noted that in several previous cases, the paying spouse was subject to a “catch-22” when deciding whether or not to take a lower paying job after being laid off. If the spouse took the job, he was accused of being voluntarily underemployed, not up to his earning potential. If he did not take the job, he was accused of not making a good-faith effort to find employment. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
In such a situation, the Mills judge ruled that two questions must be answered:
- Was the supporting spouse’s choice in accepting a particular replacement employment opportunity objectively reasonable under the totality of the circumstances?
- If so, what if any resulting support adjustment should occur that is fair and reasonable to both parties, given their respective situations?
Even though the New Jersey Alimony Reform Act had been enacted after the parties’ divorce, the Mills judge concluded that it was applicable to that case, because the parties did not have a written agreement to apply a different standard; the issue has not previously been decided by the court; and the husband lost his job after the enactment of the Act.
The Mills is decision may make it easier for ex-spouses in New Jersey to reduce alimony based on involuntary job changes.
Salvaggio Law Group devotes its entire practice to New Jersey Family Law matters, including those related to Alimony. If you want to talk, please call us at (973) 455-1220 or fill out the Contact Form on our firm’s website.