Just as a marriage need not be final, neither does a divorce. Marital Settlement Agreements are negotiated documents that rely upon a snapshot of the financial and familial status at the time of the divorce, while taking into consideration the events and circumstances leading up to that point in time. The same is true for a judgment of divorce reached after a trial: the judge will consider the same data and factors. However, life rarely stays the same. Changed situations and circumstances may arise that warrant a modification to the terms of a divorce.
When MODIFICATION IS APPROPRIATE
Modifications are appropriate when one of the parties can evidence a substantial change in circumstances which render the current divorce terms as either extremely unfair, harmful, or unable to be met. Such modifications are typically sought to amend the terms of divorce that concern alimony, child support, child custody and the equitable distribution of marital property.
The factors relating to alimony and post-divorce modifications have been codified by New Jersey statute, specifically N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23, and which was revised in 2014. In adherence to the statute, courts have applied a two-step inquiry by reviewing the reasonableness and fairness of the changed circumstances and contemplating the resulting effect upon the parties. Changed circumstances that are both involuntary and in good faith are more likely to result in an alimony modification than are voluntary changes or those changes which appear to be vindictive in nature.
Child Support Modifications
As with modifications to alimony, changes to a child support order must also be based upon a significant change in circumstances. Such circumstances may relate to a significant increase in the payor's income, a significant decrease in the recipient's income, or having demonstrated that the child's best interest is not being satisfied due to significantly changed needs.
Child Custody Modifications
Changes to child custody orders and agreements are based upon a significant change in circumstances. Courts seek to ensure that parties are bound to prior agreements and therefore do not permit change "for change sake." Instead, circumstances such as a new person being introduced into a custodial parent's home that proves to be detrimental to the subject child's best interest may result in a modification to child custody. The same is true in instances where a custodial parent's behavior is adverse to the best interest of the child, such as the abuse of alcohol, consumption of illicit drugs, or the carrying on of reckless behavior.
Property Distribution Modification
New Jersey is an equitable distribution state which means that, in a divorce, marital property is divided "fairly" as opposed to "equally." The division of marital property by way of a marital settlement agreement or judgment of divorce is typically permanent. However, instances where a party wrongfully hid assets, committed fraud, or proceeded under deceitful practices during the disclosure and division of assets, may warrant modification to the distribution.
Contact a family law attorney today
Call Jeffrey Thomas Massaro, Counsellor-at-Law at (201) 880-8989 or contact us online to schedule a consultation with a family law attorney to initiate or defend a post-divorce modification action.