Post-Judgment Modification Of Alimony Denied Upon Lack Of Changed Circumstances
- August 13, 2014
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In the recent Appellate Division case, Stratthaus v. Stratthaus, the Plaintiff, Gerard Stratthaus appealed from 2013 Family Court Orders which denied his request for a post-judgment modification of his alimony obligation and a reduction in the amount of life insurance he had to take out for the benefit of his ex-spouse. The Plaintiff argued that the court was wrong to deny him the relief that he sought, specifically, 1) a decrease in his alimony payments, 2) a reduction in his obligation to obtain a $150,000 life insurance policy, 3) a reversal of the requirement that he have to name his wife as both the beneficiary and owner of his life insurance policy, 4) and awarding his ex-wife, Defendant, Mary Stratthaus, half of the gross accounts receivable from his business. The Defendant did not file a response to the Plaintiff’s Motion. The parties in this case obtained a divorce in 2008 following a thirty-five (35) year marriage. The Defendant gave birth to three children during their marriage, two of which were emancipated at the time of their divorce and one was still attending college. The parties incorporated a property settlement agreement (PSA) into the Final Judgment of Divorce which stipulated that the Plaintiff was to pay $3,500 a month in permanent alimony which was to be satisfied from the Plaintiff’s half of the sale of his business. The parties agreed at that that in 2011 they would revisit the issue of alimony and could modify the amount if circumstances had changed. The PSA also obligated the Plaintiff to maintain a $150,000 life insurance policy for as long as he was required to pay child support and alimony. The Family Court judge who heard the parties’ Motions found that the Defendant’s actual wages were higher than when the Plaintiff filed his Cross-Motion seeking a reduction than when the obligation was set, therefore, she denied his application without making the Defendant file financial information again and concluded that the Plaintiff did not establish a change in circumstances warranting a modification of his obligation. The Appellate Division held that “The basic contractual nature of matrimonial agreements has long been recognized.” Pacifico v. Pacifico, 190 N.J. 258, 265 (2007). “Matrimonial agreements between spouses relating to alimony . . . , which are fair and just, fall within the category of contracts enforceable in equity.” Peterson v. Peterson, 85 N.J. 638, 642 (1981). The court further notes that when a party to a comprehensive and mutually negotiated PSA seeks to modify any support obligation, that party must meet the threshold of changed circumstances. J.B. v. W.B., 215 N.J. 305, 327 (2013). According to the Appellate Court, the language in the parties’ PSA does not guarantee a modification, it only notes that the parties had the right to seek a modification from the court at a specific time. The court agreed with the Family Court that the Plaintiff had not established a legitimate reduction in his earnings to constitute a changed circumstance. In addition, with regard to the Plaintiff’s obligation to take out a life insurance policy in the amount of $150,000, it appeared to the court that the Plaintiff already owned a policy for $75,000 that was provided by his employer and according to the court it did not seem reasonable to compel him to purchase an additional $75,000 policy if he current coverage was available through his employer at no cost. Therefore, as long as the Defendant remains named as the beneficiary for the policy, the Plaintiff does not have to purchase another policy. In all, the Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the Family Court except for the part of the order dealing with the insurance policy. If you anticipate that you may want to petition the court for a post-judgment modification of your alimony obligation or any other court mandated legal obligation it is critical that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about post-judgment modification, alimony, divorce, child support, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way is intended to replace the advice of an attorney.