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Modification of Alimony and Child Support: What is NOT a "Changed Circumstance?"

average-alimony.s600x600.jpgWhen a divorce occurs, the parties or the court decide the terms and payments of alimony and child support. Parties can ask a court to modify these terms if need be, for example, if there are changed circumstances. If a child was young at the time alimony and child support responsibilities were decided, that child's attendance to college and financial independence may constitute a changed circumstance that allows the court to change the terms. See the case of T.M. v. R.M. in another blog. However, there's a difference between seeking a modification because of changed circumstances and requesting that the court relitigate the issues because the adults make decisions that change the circumstances of their lives and the convenience of compliance with the court's decision.

In the case of K.L. v. S.L., a New Jersey Appeals Court looked at the distinction between these two scenarios. The parties were married in 1996 in China. In 2009, they divorced in Texas. The former wife moved to New Jersey with the daughter, where the daughter attended a number of extracurricular activities ranging from Chinese lessons to swimming lessons to ice skating. The former husband moved to Kentucky, then Michigan, then Ohio, visiting his daughter only three times in two years. He provided child support until October 2011. The former wife tried to have the divorce registered in New Jersey and simultaneously sought a restraining order against the former husband.

She claimed that defendant sexually and emotionally abused her daily if she disobeyed him and said that after this continued for years, neighbors called the police. The court issued a temporary restraining order against him set a payment schedule based on a calculated income for him of $120,000.00 a year, in spite of him not providing any tax forms to the court.

In 2017, the former husband sought to modify the agreement, claiming that he remarried in 2012 and had a son from that marriage. He also claimed that he lost his job and could not find another because of the restraining order.

The Appeals Court interpreted the modification request as one to review the 2011 ruling. It began its review by stating that this request to review should have been timely, but instead, the former husband waited years to seek an appeal. It then reviewed the former husband's contention that there was a substantial change in circumstances that required modification of the award.

However, the Court found that he did not provide sufficient evidence of changed circumstances and further, that "one cannot find himself in, and choose to remain in, a position where he has diminished or no earning capacity and expect to be relieved of or to be able to ignore obligations of support to one's family." Here, he chose not to find a job and furthermore, his conduct led to the issuance of the restraining order. The court denied the request.

While circumstances do undoubtedly change in life, not all of them warrant a court's modification of child care support and alimony.

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