There are circumstances where a former spouse may want to take steps toward reducing alimony payments. It is not uncommon for applications to be made after the divorce is final asking the Court to vary the amount of support ordered to a former spouse. This is due to the fact that support orders are made based on the figures available to the Court at the time the order is signed. If there is a change in circumstances for the spouse paying alimony, the Court may be asked to issue a new order reducing or eliminating alimony altogether.
Application for Reducing Alimony
Alimony can be modified (increased or reduced) when either party has a change in circumstances. This means that a former spouse can bring an application for alimony after the divorce has been finalized.
If the former spouse is ill or injured and unable to work, this would be considered a change in circumstances, since the change must be significant enough to prevent or impair the individual from making a living.
Change in Circumstances
The term "change in circumstances" is open to interpretation by the Court. If the individual making payments is looking to reduce alimony, the situations may be put forward as a "change in circumstances":
- Unemployment or reduction in income
- Illness or disability
- Former spouse has received an inheritance
- Former spouse is co-habitating with a new partner
- New partner is financially supporting the former spouse
- Former spouse refuses to look for work
Burden of Proof
In an application for reducing alimony, the burden of proof rests with the party trying to have the payments changed. This person must be able to show that the current level of alimony payments have caused financial hardship and had a significant impact on the ability to support him or herself. The application to reduce alimony must be supported by financial documentation, such as tax returns and bank records.
The Lepis Case
The precedent case the Court uses to determine whether to grant a reduction in alimony is the Lepis case. In Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980), the Court set out the types of circumstances under which a reduction in alimony may be granted:
- Cost of living increase
- Income change
- Party receiving payments loses house
- Cohabitation with another adult
- Disability following divorce (due to illness or injury)
Remarriage and Alimony
If the person paying alimony chooses to remarry, that fact has no bearing on the amount of alimony to be paid. However, if the recipient of the alimony payments remarries, the alimony payments will be terminated immediately. If this second marriage ends, the former spouse does not have the option of having alimony payments from the first spouse reinstated.
Cohabitation and Alimony
In a situation where the former spouse is cohabitating with another adult, this fact may be used in an application to reduce alimony. The fact that cohabitation has occurred is not sufficient grounds to vary the amount paid. The Court will consider the circumstances of the new relationship to determine:
- Whether the new partner financially supports the former spouse
- Whether he or she lives in the former spouse's home without contributing to household expenses
The judge will examine the financial records to see whether the former spouse requires the alimony to make ends meet. While the former husband may see the woman's new relationship as his "get out of paying alimony" card, this may not be the case. The Court does not want to leave the woman without adequate support.
Following a divorce, the payor has the right to bring an application before the Court with the goal of reducing alimony. He or she must be prepared to support this claim with financial records demonstrating a change in circumstances to be successful.