New Jersey’s standard for modification of an alimony award is based upon a change of financial circumstances such that a modification of the award is warranted. More importantly, the financial change of circumstances cannot be of a temporary nature, but must be of a permanent nature. The permanent change standard is a very high hurdle, discussed and reiterated in the recent New Jersey Appellate Court’s decision of Grier v. Grier.
The Grier case, in relevant part, deals with what the Court determines to be a financial change of circumstances that is of a more temporary nature, so modification warranted, the matter not even requiring a hearing in the lower court. A hearing is only required when the plaintiff demonstrates a prima facie case in his pleadings. This means that Mr. Grier had to provide enough information, sufficient allegations, to support his claim to modify support based on a permanent change of circumstances. The lower court found he provided inadequate support of his claim, as did the Appellate Court, because the change of circumstances he pled was temporary.
In short, Mr. Grier’s claimed that he had a reduction of income since entry of the order for alimony because he lost a client, and wanted the court to reduce his alimony obligation based upon that financial change. The lower court as well as the Appellate Court simply did not see the loss of one client as a permanent event, assessing that his income could increase again at any time, thereby making the income reduction temporary. In addition, Mr. Grier had filed bankruptcy in 2014, greatly reducing his debt, which the court stated he “admitted.”
The procedural history of Grier is a bit quirky. The initial disposition of Mr. Grier’s matter was dismissal because he failed to serve his ex-wife. He then served her and brought a motion for the Court to reconsider its dismissal motion. Thereafter, though the part of the case concerning emancipation of his son was granted, the dismissal of the portion of the case for modification of alimony remained. But this time, the trial court based the dismissal on Mr. Grier’s not having stated a prima facie case, as above discussed. Thus, it is only the Motion for Reconsideration appealed.
Appellate Courts are limited to what they are allowed to consider in different types of situations. On an appeal from a Motion for Reconsideration, the Court is limited to review only on the issue of abuse of discretion by the lower court. The Appellate Court found no abuse of discretion by the trial court, therefore, the decision of the trial court was upheld, supporting the trial court’s not needing to hold a hearing because the financial change of circumstance alleged was of a temporary nature, not of the permanent nature required.
Without an enduring or permanent changed circumstances, New Jersey courts will not modify an existing alimony determination.
If you need to discuss alimony modification, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen, divorce lawyers in NJ, for a free consultation at 201-845-7400.