Denial Of Husband’s Alimony Modification Reversed
- March 19, 2015
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In Galante v. Galante, the Defendant appealed from a court order that denied his Motion for a modification of his alimony obligation. The New Jersey Appellate Court reversed the decision of the Family Court and remanded the case back for reconsideration. The parties executed a marital settlement agreement (MSA) in 2011 upon getting divorced. According to the MSA, with regard to equitable distribution, the Plaintiff was to receive the parties’ marital residence, the 401k account from one of the Defendant’s businesses, and the parties’ 2010 tax refund. The Defendant received the parties’ 2009 tax refund, and his 50% interest in three businesses that were acquired during the marriage. Further, the MSA provided for a two-step alimony payment schedule because the Defendant was unable to pay off the mortgage that was securing their former marital home. Before the marital home was sold, the Defendant was to pay all of the house expenses and $400 a week in alimony to the Plaintiff. Once the home was sold, he was to pay $1,500 a week in alimony to the Plaintiff. In 2013, the Defendant filed a Motion with the court to modify his alimony obligation, amongst other things. He claimed that his financial circumstances had dramatically declined which resulted in a significant change in circumstances, which justified the modification of the MSA. Specifically, he noted that his businesses had permanently lost their client base after the economic collapse of 2008 and his annual earnings dropped from $400,000 a year to $130,000 constituting a significant change in circumstances. The Family Court denied his application citing that he had failed to establish a prima facie showing of changed circumstances because he failed to provide the court with documentation that proved his claims. The Defendant filed a Motion for reconsideration in which he included his tax returns. The court denied this Motion as well holding that the Defendant was simply trying to cure his deficient documentation with information that was readily available to him when he filed his first Motion. The Defendant appealed. On Appeal the Defendant claimed that he established a prima facie case for a change in circumstances according to Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980). According to the Appellate Court, alimony “may be revised and altered by the court from time to time as circumstances may require.” N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23. To win on such an application, a showing of “changed circumstances” is required. Weishaus v. Weishaus, 180 N.J. 131, 140-41 (2004). The Appellate Court found that in this case the Defendant did not make broad generalizations and bare assertions that his businesses were suffering, but rather, he provided specific details about his businesses failures and his efforts to rectify his situation. Thus, at the very least, the Defendant presented a prima facie case of changed circumstances and if the Plaintiff materially disputed the Defendant’s claims, a plenary hearing should have been held to consider those facts, which was not done. Therefore, the decision of the Family Court was reversed. If you believe that a post-judgment modification to your alimony obligation may be beneficial to you it is critical that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about post-judgment modification, alimony, equitable distribution, divorce, 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 if an attorney.