Articles Posted in Alimony

The Appellate Division in the recently published case of Bermeo v. Bermeo, A-1312-17, addressed a post-judgment application by a supported spouse seeking to modify alimony based  on her inability to maintain the marital lifestylefile000142175851-300x230 after entering into a marital Property Settlement Agreement and the lack of findings by the court of what the marital lifestyle was pursuant to Crews v. Crews, 164 N.J. 11 (2000).

In this matter, the parties divorced in 2015 after entering into a Property Settlement Agreement that was incorporated into their Final Judgment of Divorce.  The issue raised post-judgment by the Plaintiff, the supported spouse, was the extent of alimony that she was receiving and her inability to maintain a lifestyle comparable to the marital lifestyle.   During the marriage, the parties had a middle class lifestyle.  The Plaintiff was a homemaker while the Defendant earned an average income of $471,000 in the last several years of the marriage.  By the time of the divorce, however, the Defendant had changed jobs.  The parties negotiated a property settlement agreement through counsel that provided that the Husband would pay $4,000 per month in alimony.  The Plaintiff was earning $6,000 at the time of the divorce but the Agreement was based on an imputed income to her of $25,000 per year.  The Agreement also was based on an imputed income of $160,000 to the Defendant.  In addition, the Agreement required the Defendant to pay a percentage of supplemental income earned by the Defendant in the form of commissions, deferred compensation, stock options and bonuses.   The Agreement expressly stated that neither party would be able to maintain a lifestyle that was reasonable comparable to their marital lifestyle and that the parties “freely and voluntarily waive determination of the joint marital lifestyle at this time.”

Plaintiff in 2017 filed a post-judgment application seeking an increase in alimony to $6,000 per month, arguing that the Defendant was voluntarily underemployed and that alimony should be based on imputed annual income of $220,000 to Defendant.  After the divorce, Plaintiff had not received supplemental alimony because the Defendant earned $120,000 which was less than the $160,000 of imputed income upon which alimony was based.  The family court judge denied the Plaintiff’s application without ordering a plenary hearing or additional discovery and without making a finding as to marital lifestyle pursuant to Crews v. Crews.  The Plaintiff appealed.

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post entitled Support Security: Real Life Considerations. In it I discussed the developed case law and statutes dealing with affording dependent ex-spouses (and children) some level of economic security and protection in the event of the death of a payor – spouse, including in the form of life insurance, trusts or other means. While the legal authority of a Court to require same is now well established, it is an issue which has complexities, both practical and equitable, in regards to the determination of the nature, level and extent of same, depending upon the facts and circumstances in a given case. However, often forgotten is another, if perhaps even more valuable, form of “security” which may be available to ex-spouses (and children) in the event of the death of a former spouse – Social Security Survivor Benefits.

social-security-card-300x202Last year my partner wrote a blog post in which he discussed the fact that a divorced spouse may be entitled to elect to receive retirement benefits under Social Security based upon the former spouse’s work history, rather than their own as long as certain conditions were met, namely (1) the marriage lasted ten (10) years or longer (measured from the date of a valid marriage to the date the divorce is final); (2) you are unmarried; (3) you are age 62 or older; (4) your ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security or disability benefits, and the benefit you are entitled to receive based upon your own work is less than the benefit you would receive based upon the ex-spouse’s work. Further, if the ex-spouse had not applied for retirement benefits, but could qualify for them, one would only be eligible to receive such retirement benefits if the parties were divorced for at least two (2) years. These Social Security retirement benefits are not subject to equitable distribution. Since alimony and spousal support are often subject to modification, if not termination, upon the payor – spouse’s retirement, such benefits are an important and valuable consideration which are often overlooked. Curiously, the right to receive these benefits is not predicated upon the existence of such support obligations, or even actual dependency, as long as the requirements noted above are met.

While most people focus on retirement benefits when we talk about Social Security, there is another form of benefits available to divorced spouses that is often ignored and which may be even more valuable – survivor benefits. Under Social Security, if a worker spouse dies, whether before or after reaching retirement, that person’s spouse and/or minor children may be eligible to receive survivor benefits as long as certain criteria were met, i.e. work credits, age, etc. Those eligible to receive monthly survivor benefits include (1) a widow or widower age 60 or older (age 50 or older if disabled); (2) a widow or widower at any age who is caring for the deceased’s child who is under the age of 16 or disabled and receiving benefits on their record; (3) an unmarried child of the deceased who is younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if he or she is a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school) or age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22. Additionally, a divorced spouse of a worker who dies may be eligible to receive the same benefits as a widow or a widower provided that the marriage lasted ten (10) years or more. If the divorced spouse is caring for the deceased’s ex-spouse’s child younger than age 16, the ten (10) year rule does not apply and he or she would be able to receive survivor benefits until the child reaches 16 or is no longer disabled. Surprisingly, the divorced non-worker’s spouse’s remarriage after reaching age 60 (50 if disabled) will not affect eligibility for survivor benefits. However, if the remarriage occurred before age 50, the former divorced spouse would not qualify for survivor benefits. Compare this to the fact that by statute remarriage at any age would terminate a right to receive alimony. Further, the fact that the worker spouse may have been remarried at the time of his death would not affect the ability of a divorced spouse who claimed survivor benefits under Social Security. Indeed, multiple spouses, current or former, may be eligible for such benefits as long as they meet the requisite criteria.

In an unpublished decision in the matter of  T.M. v. R.M., A-4724-16T3 (App. Div. April 5, 2018), the Appellate Division considered a plaintiff’s appeal of the trial court’s denial of his motion to modify his alimony and child support obligations based on changed circumstances. At the time of the parties’ divorce, the plaintiff was earning a salary of $100,000 per year as a limited partner with OTR. In 2011, plaintiff lost his job and was unemployed for eighteen months. The plaintiff became employed again in 2012, earning $38,400 per year. Continue reading ›

The legal fees incurred with regard to a divorce can be substantial. I have written several blog posts in the past cautioning litigants of how their decisions and actions during a divorce matter can dramatically impact the level of legal fees that can be generated, and the ways litigants can reduce or limit those fees. 1040-300x193The more legal fees incurred, the less money there is in the marital pot to be divided between the parties, to have available for future needs and expenses (college educations, retirement, etc.), and/or income to pay support or one’s own living expenses. Continue reading ›

If you have listened to local radio in recent years, (certainly those stations geared to a more mature audience), you were hard pressed to miss commercials from a “large” insurance broker toutinginsurance-300x184 his ability to obtain “affordable” life insurance coverage for persons, notwithstanding whether you had various chronic health conditions, took medications, or were otherwise not in the best of shape. Recently, that same insurance broker has been running a new series of commercials clearly geared to divorced or divorcing spouses, who may be in the position of having to secure life insurance coverage for the benefit of their ex, maybe even more than one. Continue reading ›

Most people would be shocked to find out that an individual who obtains a final restraining order against their spouse could be ordered to pay alimony to support his/her abuser. The Prevention offile000388004075-3-200x300 Domestic Violence Act (“Act”) specifically states that victims of domestic violence are entitled to financial support from their abusers. However, the Act is silent on whether a victim of domestic violence who is also the income producing spouse has to support the abuser. Continue reading ›

file00032137357-300x225The 2017 Tax Reform Act has been signed into law by President Trump. This law significantly changes the tax liability of individuals. For individuals, it preserves the marriage penalty forcing dual income households to file jointly to increase their tax bracket or face the faster escalated tax rates imposed on those married filing separately. The intermediate tax haven for married persons filing separately or head of household is preserved, allowing for some planning in divorce proceedings with regard to filing status. Continue reading ›

I would like to begin this blog post by thanking all those who are currently serving in the United States military and to all Veterans  that have served. Currently, there are approximately 22 million veterans of the U.S. armed forces and 1.5 million currently serving. On September 15, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling potentially affecting their military families. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in May, 2017, in the case of Howell v. Howell (No.15-1037) that a state court may not order a veteran to indemnify a divorced spouse for the loss in the divorced spouse’s portion of the veteran’s retirement pay caused by the veteran’s waiver of retirement pay to receive service-related disability benefits. Continue reading ›

I was at a social event recently. A woman attending that event, after learning that I was a divorce attorney, came up to me. She told me that her ex-husband had just filed court papers seeking to modify or terminate her alimony payments. With indignation in her voice she explained that “He can’t do that because I have permanent alimony!” It was obvious that this person had taken the word “permanent” literally, and believed that her alimony rights were forever immutable. She seemed genuinely shocked when I explained, without getting into the details of her case, that even “permanent” alimony may be modified or terminated upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. Continue reading ›

There are some points where federal law intersects with or affects the economic consequences of pending or finalized divorces. Recently one of those point of intersection was the topic Job-Application-SSN-300x225of conversation of a prospective client. Her concern I am sure are shared by many. The question dealt with Social Security and how one computes the 10 year requirement for derivative benefits. Continue reading ›