NJ Family Law - Post Divorce Issues

Divorce Lawyers: Essex County New Jersey

Most post divorce issues that require court intervention revolve around changes in circumstances of either party or their children. When considered appropriate, New Jersey courts have recognized the need for renewed evaluation of the agreements or court orders originally incorporated into the Final Judgment of Divorce and have developed a body of law that lays out the factors to be considered when making modifications.

Modifying or Terminating Alimony

A showing of changed financial circumstances by either party may justify a modification to a former spouse's financial obligation. Based on the showing of changed circumstances, an alimony award may be either increased or decreased. When changed circumstances affects the dependent party's ability to continue to maintain the standard of living provided for in the original divorce decree or agreement, an increase may be justified. Conversely, circumstances may render all or a portion of the alimony received inappropriate. The party seeking the modification must prove "changed circumstances" to the court. Generally, courts have concluded that changed circumstances such as a reduction in a party's income, the recipient spouse's cohabitation with a member of the opposite sex in a relationship akin to a marriage, increased earnings by the recipient of the alimony, and receipt of a substantial inheritance by the recipient are sufficient to re-examine alimony obligations.

Remarriage of a recipient spouse will automatically terminate alimony by statute where permanent alimony was awarded. N.J.S.A. 2A:34-25.

Modifying or Terminating Child Support

Like alimony, child support may be modified, either upwards or downwards, by either parent if they can demonstrate changed financial circumstances. What constitutes a sufficient change in circumstances will vary from case to case. Some examples of changed circumstances are: a change in the child’s age resulting in an increased need for child support; a change in one parent’s employment situation; one parent’s receipt of a large inheritance; the emancipation of a child or changes in parenting time. Emancipation can occur upon the child’s marriage, by court order or by attainment of an appropriate age. N.J.S.A. 9:17B-3.

College or Post-Secondary Education Expenses

In most circumstances, the privilege of parenthood carries with it the duty to assure a necessary education for the children. The concept of what constitutes a "necessary education" has evolved in recent years and courts in New Jersey today tend to view education beyond high school as "necessary". Thus, our courts have decided that, in general, financially capable parents should contribute to the higher education of children who are qualified students.

In evaluating a party's obligation for contribution toward the cost of higher education, courts will consider the following 12 factors:

  1. Whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education;
  2. The effect of the parent's background values and goals on the child's reasonable expectation of higher education;
  3. The amount of contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education;
  4. The parent's ability to pay that cost;
  5. The relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child;
  6. The financial resources of both parents;
  7. The commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education;
  8. The financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held by a custodian or in trust;
  9. The ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation;
  10. The availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans;
  11. The child's relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance; and
  12. The relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the child's overall long-range goals.

Relocation

A custodial parent with actual physical custody of the child may relocate only with the consent of the former spouse or pursuant to a court order as provided by N.J.S.A. 9:2-2. The statute preserves the rights of the non-custodial parent and child to maintain and develop their familial relationship. This mutual right of the child and the non-custodial parent is usually achieved by means of a parenting plan. Because the removal of the child from the state may seriously affect the parenting schedule of the non-custodial parent, the courts require the custodial parent to show why the move should be permitted.

The custodial parent must show good faith in making the move and that the relocation will not be contrary to the child's interest. Our Supreme Court has delineated 12 factors which must be considered to determine whether the custodial parent has proven good faith and that the move will not adversely affect the child's interest:

  1. The reasons supporting the move;
  2. The reasons given for opposing the move;
  3. The past history of dealings between the parties as they bear on the parties' reasons in support of and opposition to the move;
  4. Whether the child will receive educational, health, and leisure opportunities at least equal to what is available here;
  5. Any special needs or talents of the child that require accommodation and whether such accommodation or its equivalent is available in the new location;
  6. Whether a visitation and communication schedule can be developed that will allow the non-custodial parent to maintain a full and continuous relationship with the child;
  7. The likelihood that the custodial parent will continue to foster the child's relationship with the non-custodial parent if the move is allowed;
  8. The effect of the move on extended family relationships here and in the new location;
  9. If the child is of sufficient age and ability to reason, then the child's preference;
  10. If the child is entering his or her senior year in high school, the child generally should not be moved until graduation without his or her consent
  11. Whether the non-custodial parent has the ability to relocate; and
  12. Any other factor bearing on the child's interest.

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