Time and time again, you have probably heard that before you sign any contract, you need to read it carefully and be sure that you fully understand what it says.
Never is this advice more important than when you sign the most important document in your New Jersey divorce case: the Marital Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) with your soon to be ex-spouse. If you’re not extremely careful, you can wind up with a result that you never envisioned and which has major implications on your ongoing financial responsibilities.
Theresa Kamery found this out the hard way when she tried to terminate her alimony obligation to her ex-husband Kenneth Schaefer, after he remarried in 2011.
Most people believe that alimony automatically terminates upon an ex-spouse’s remarriage. It does—unless something in the MSA overrides that rule. That is exactly what happened in Ms. Kamery’s case.
The MSA signed by Ms. Kamery and her husband in 2007 required her to pay him alimony for a term of six (6) years. Although a party who is divorced in New Jersey generally has the right to seek an alimony modification if circumstances change, the MSA in her case contained what is known as an “anti-Lepis” clause. Such a clause attempts to limit the power of the New Jersey Family Court to modify support, by clearly stating the events (if any) which will justify modification.
In her MSA, Ms. Kamery agreed that only three things could end her alimony obligation: (1) the expiration of the six (6) year alimony term; (2) her husband’s death; or (3) Ms. Kamery’s death. The MSA clearly stated: “No change in Husband’s circumstances other than death shall constitute a changed circumstance affecting Husband’s right to alimony.”
In affirming the New Jersey family court’s denial of Ms. Kamery’s application to terminate her alimony obligation because of her ex-husband’s remarriage, the Appellate Division observed: “[T]he parties’ negotiated agreement contains trade-offs that were freely and fairly negotiated, with the assistance of counsel on both sides. There is no evidence that the anti-Lepis provision was not knowingly and voluntarily negotiated.”
This simple omission in the MSA, which cost Ms. Kamery a lot of money and could have been easily corrected if that is what Ms. Kamery intended, illustrates just how important it is for each party in a New Jersey divorce to be represented by the best available New Jersey divorce lawyers.
Salvaggio Law Group LLC devotes its entire practice to New Jersey Divorce and Family Law matters. In 2012 alone, the firm was retained by more than 50 new divorce clients to expertly guide them through their New Jersey divorces.
If you want to talk, please call us at (973) 455-1220 or fill out the Contact Form on our website.