As you may be aware, alimony and child support amounts may be increased or decreased based on changed circumstances in the lives of the spouses or their children. One of the most common changed circumstances is a decrease in income, typically from being laid off or having one's hours reduced. It is essential that the loss or reduction of employment be involuntary, which would disqualify firings or any other loss of employment for which the employee was at fault. The definition of “involuntary”, however, does not stop there when it comes to the determination of domestic support.
Prior to the NJ Alimony Reform Act of 2014, paying spouses needed to demonstrate more than just involuntary employment in order to decrease their payments. A primary issue was the imputing of income, which is based on an individual's capacity to earn. This means that an individual may not be excused from his or her alimony obligation if they accept a lower paying job, which left many spouses stuck in a sort of “career purgatory”, especially during the economic recession of 2008.
In recent years, the family courts have taken advantage of the wording in the amended alimony statute to address complex issues pertaining to an individual's ability to find comparable employment. For example, subsection 2 of N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(k) states that judges can consider an applicant's sincere efforts to find employment in any field, at any income level. This is an important acknowledgement for individuals who were earning high incomes, but only after many years of service. Starting over at a new company, even in the same field, often means starting at a lower salary. Foregoing that opportunity to find a job paying comparable wages could be a very long wait, thereby forcing the applicant to go through unreasonable financial hardships.
The effort, itself, needs to of good faith, meaning that there is well documented evidence to show that the paying spouse actively looked for new employment. Factors such as the economy, the spouse's age and health, and current wages for employees in similar career situations must be examined as well. Furthermore, it must be shown that the applicant did not refuse any work or remain underemployed in a deliberate attempt to avoid paying support, or for other frivolous reasons such as the job being beneath them.
Each application must, of course, be decided on a case-by-case basis, along with other factors such as the other party's ability to support themselves and their children on a reduced income. It's also important to note that the amended statutes do not give a specific list of standards for how to determining whether an applicant's state of employment is truly “involuntary”. It does, however, allow judges to consider their good faith efforts in finding new employment, as well as the circumstances that may force them to accept a lower paying job. For more information on alimony and child support modifications, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.