During a divorce, several factors are examined by the court such as: each spouse's property, income, etc. Those factors are then used in a court's determination of the custody of the children, spousal support, property division, etc. However, just because the circumstances of an involved party were one way during the divorce, these circumstances may change radically months or years after the divorce. Because of this, the law in New Jersey allows a divorce, and its terms, to be later amended via post-judgment modification.
If circumstances that existed during the original divorce change and create a situation where the provisions that were agreed upon or entered by the court at the time of divorce or final judgment are no longer practical or applicable, a modification to the divorce may be worth seeking. Post-judgment modifications focus primarily on child custody, child support and spousal support, however, the legal remedy may also be sought in the following situations:
- Redistribution of Property
- Change the Visitation/Parenting Time arrangements in a case
- Enforce Litigants' Rights (enforcing custody, visitation, child support and alimony or spousal support payment orders)
- Emancipation of a Child (Termination of child support obligation)
- Reimbursement of Medical Expenses
- Reconsideration of a Family Court Order
- Relocation of children
To seek a post-judgment modification, the petitioning party must show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances. Some examples are:
- Switching jobs has led to a change in work hours and/or income
- The loss of a job, leading to lack of income
- A parent has a good faith reason for relocating and wants to take the children along
- Allegations of abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol use
- The receiver of alimony payments gets remarried or is living with a new partner
If the changed circumstances exist, then when filing for post-judgment modification of a divorce, the petitioner would ask the court to modify the terms of the existing divorce terms to better suit the current conditions.
Redistribution of Property
In New Jersey, post-judgment modifications regarding division of property are very rare and are often denied of all post-judgment motions. Once a property distribution order is executed during the original divorce, ex-spouses are usually unable to undo the court's original ruling. However, the court may make an exception to this rule if a spouse purposely hid marital assets during the original divorce proceeding. Or, property may be redistributed if a spouse failed to act in accordance with a marital settlement agreement or divorce decree.
Change of Child Custody
The court will review and modify a child custody arrangement via a post-judgment modification if there has been a significant change in circumstances since the order was established and the change is necessary to uphold the child's best interests. The court will look at a variety of factors, such as a lack of communication between the parents regarding visitation, history of domestic violence, prevalence of substance abuse, stability of the home environment, preference of the child if age appropriate, changes to the child's medical or educational needs, fitness of the parents, and parents' employment responsibilities. The change in circumstances must be significant. The court will not modify a custody arrangement if there has only been a minor change in circumstances.
A parent cannot remove a child outside of New Jersey without first seeking court permission or getting the consent of the other parent. If the other parent opposes the relocating of a child, the moving parent must file a motion. If the parent who wants to move is the Parent of Primary Residence, two main factors must be proven. The first is whether the relocating parent is moving in good faith, and not to frustrate the other parent's rights. For example, moving for a new job or moving to live closer to family and support system will satisfy this requirement. Next, it will need to be proven that the move would not harm the involved child.If the original child custody order stated that the parents were to share joint physical custody of the child, the parent who wants to move must prove that it is in the best interest of the child to substantially modify custody and permit the move.
Change of Child Support
Child support orders are driven entirely by the parents' combined monthly income and reflect the policy that children should enjoy the same financial security they would have had if their parent's relationship had not ended. Courts strive to order an amount that will not only provide for the child's needs, but also respect the paying parent's ability to pay. If either parent's income significantly changes after the original divorce decree, the court may modify the child support order to fit the needs of the child as well as the paying parent.
Change of Alimony Payment
Alimony modification is awarded after either party can prove a significant change in financial or personal circumstances. The court may reduce or terminate alimony if the spouse receiving alimony ends up living with another person or remarries since much of their financial needs would likely be taken care of by the new person in their life. The court may also modify alimony if either spouse experiences a significant increase in income, receives a demotion of their employment, or suffer unemployment.
One circumstance that is sure to change if children are involved in the divorce is age. The involved children are sure to get older and, as they do, the court may need to modify a child support or custody as circumstances change as a result of age. For example, sometimes both parents are required to pay for a child's college education, despite the fact that the child has reached age 18 and is no longer considered to be a minor. As with other decisions regarding a divorce, the court will weigh a number of factors to determine whether it is appropriate and fair to require both parents to contribute to the cost of college.