Court Considers Application To Terminate Permanent Alimony
- February 10, 2015
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Pretlow v. Pretlow, involved a party’s application for the post-judgment modification of his permanent alimony obligation based upon his retirement. Following a trial conducted in 1998, the parties in this case were divorced pursuant to a judgment that directed that the Plaintiff pay his ex-wife, the Defendant, $100 per week in permanent alimony. Subsequently, the Plaintiff petitioned the Family Court to terminate his alimony obligation based upon changed circumstances because he claimed that he was forced into an early retirement by an illness that significantly increased his out-of-pocket medical expenses. The Family Court, after evaluating the moving papers and after hearing oral argument, denied the Plaintiff request to terminate his alimony obligation because there was a dispute as to whether or not the Plaintiff’s retirement, at age 55, was voluntary or involuntary. The Family Court judge noted that the Plaintiff had made a “strong argument . . . that his retirement was involuntary” which included evidence of a decrease in his income and increase in his medical bills, yet the judge recognized that the law required an evidentiary hearing to test the Plaintiff’s assertions and to allow the Defendant to respond to the Plaintiff’s argument with a discussion of her own circumstances. Interestingly, the judge did not order such a hearing because he felt that doing so was not the correct course of action because it would have cost the parties “two years[‘] worth of alimony just arguing whether alimony should be continued or not.” The Plaintiff appealed from this judgment. According to the Appellate Division, although the Family Court judge may have been correct in his assertion regarding the time and expense that holding the evidentiary hearing would have placed upon the parties, it held that there was no doubt that if the Plaintiff’s assertions were true he would be entitled to the relief that he requested either in whole or in part. The Plaintiff should be not be burdened for the rest of his life with what may no longer be an equitable alimony obligation because of the disproportionate financial consequences that would result from proceeding in accordance with Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980) and the cases that followed it. See also Stamberg v. Stamberg, 302 N.J. Super. 35, 42-44 (App. Div. 1997). Therefore, the Appellate Court reversed and remanded the case back to the Family Court to hold an evidentiary hearing on the issue. Further, the Appellate Court added that merely because an evidentiary hearing is required does not necessarily mean that the parties are to be destined to a lengthy or expensive proceeding and that the court could proceed in a brief and expeditious manner to remain sensitive to the financial circumstances of the parties. Although the laws regarding duration of alimony have recently been changed, many people will still be required to pay or receive spousal support for many years. This can be a major financial burden or benefit to you depending upon whether you are the payor or payee of the alimony obligation. If you anticipate that you may want to petition the court for a post-judgment modification of your alimony obligation it is imperative that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about alimony, child support, post-judgment modification , or other family law matters in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way is intended to replace the advice of an attorney.