1. Is the bad economy forcing any divorced spouses to try to reduce their child support and alimony payments?
Absolutely. In this day and age the family courts are swamped with Lepis motions that are requesting to reduce alimony and child support payments. When a couple reaches a divorce agreement, they are hopeful that after many months if not years of fighting over money, their financial matters have finally been settled. At this juncture, both spouses are hopeful that they they can live the rest of their life in peace. However, the economic crash has thrown “monkey wrench” into many of these well intentioned divorce settlements. Many divorced spouses are now forced to go back into court and to try to reopen or renegotiate the terms of their divorce settlement. Many divorce spouses have lost their jobs, been downsized, or have been forced to take a lesser paying job because it was the best one available.
Life in these hard economic times can throw you a lot of curve balls. As a result, any competent lawyer must advise their matrimonial client that in all likelihood they will have to deal with a Lepis motion sooner than later. It used to be that once you made a deal in the divorce court that it was “written in stone.” However, now in the world of family law, alimony is being modified all of the time, and child support can be reduced or stopped if there is a “change of circumstances” Family law is an entirely different ball game than it used to be in the 60’s and 70’s. It is unfair to simple label spouses who do not pay child support and alimony as simple deadbeats. For every case wherein there are significant alimony or child support arrears, there is a genuine catastrophe wherein someone has lost their job. Given these circumstances, if possible it is always wise to explore an alimony buyout. It is better to get a reduce sum of money up front, than be forced to deal with endless Lepis motions.
2. What type of strategy should I use to try to convince my ex- spouse to agree to reduce my support payments?
If you are the person making the alimony or child support payments, then the following tips may be helpful to your case:
a. Be up front with your ex-spouse. You should inform your ex-spouse as soon as possible that you foresee a problem in making your child support or alimony payments in the near future. If you believe that there is a good chance that you may be laid off, downsized, or if you paycheck will be slashed then you should inform your ex-spouse immediately. It is best to inform your ex-spouse in writing or by e-mail. Therefore, if you have to go back to court, then you will have a paper trail to prove that you have been reasonable with your ex-spouse.
b. Try to Renegotiate. You should immediately try to renegotiate the amount of your child support and alimony payments. The longer you wait, then the larger the amount of support arrears that you will owe to your ex-spouse and to probation.
c. Obtain as Much Documentation as Possible. You have to substantiate your defense that you have an inability to pay the current amounts of child support and alimony. No court is simply going to take your word for it that you can’t afford to pay your support payments any longer. If you have lost your job, then you should provide the termination papers to the court and to your wife. If your hours have been cut, then you should obtain proof from HR to establish verify this. Moreover, you should also provide your pay stubs to validate these claims.
d. Disclose any Severance Package that You Have Received. If you’ve been laid off and if you have received a severance package, then you should disclose these documents to the court and to your ex-spouse. The court and your ex-wife will believe that you are trying to “hide the ball” from them if you don’t disclose these documents.
e. Be prepared to cut your spending. If you have lost your job, or if your hours have been cut, then you should also adjust your lifestyle. Moreover, if you file a Lepis motion then you should highlight the fact that you have even cut back on your lifestyle, and you have reduced your own individual expenses since your income was just reduced. Most judges will not grant you a child support or alimony reduction unless you have made some personal sacrifices and also cut down on your own individual lifestyle expenses.
f. Try to be reasonable with your ex-spouse. Money is not the only bargaining tool in any post-judgment dispute. For example, if you are now suddenly out of work and if you hope to lower child support payments , then you should offer to do something that you know the other parent has to pay for now, such as after-school care. This gesture will make the custodial parent feel that you are trying, and it also will make you feel that you are not abandoning your financial responsibility to your children.
3. I have just lost my job at the GM plant, can I just stop making my child support payments until I find another one?
You should always pay your child support. New Jersey law is very clear about the payment of child support, and it can only be stopped if you obtain a court order that stays it or reduces. If you don’t pay your child support, then you can go to jail on the grounds of contempt. In dire circumstances, it is best to make at least partial payments. If you only are making partial support payments then you will be accruing arrears. However, most judges will be reluctant to lock you up as long as you have been trying to pay.
4. If I am able to convince my wife to accept a lower child and alimony payment will they be permanently reduced?
Probably not. In most consent orders that reduce child support and alimony, the payments are only reduced for a set period of time, and are subject to review after a reasonable period of time. The family courts are courts of equity, and they like to do “the right thing.” If you are in the dumps then most judges will be reasonable and grant you relief. However, as soon as you recover, the family courts will want you to “get back on speed” can start paying some significant support once again. If you suddenly find a better paying job, then you can’t hide this fact from your ex-spouse and the court. If you do try to hide this fact, then once you find yourself back into court, then most judges will hammer you.
5. My ex-husband has approached me to inquire if I would accept a reduction ofÂ my child support and alimony payments until he got another job. How should I respond?
If you are the person who receives the support payments then you should try to be as reasonable with your ex-husband as possible. However, you should verify any type of story that he is trying to sell you. You should request to see any and all documentation that verifies your ex-spouse’s claim of an inability to pay. This type of documentation should be his bank statements, payroll stubs, W-2’s, commission statements, and tax returns, etc.
You should “Hear your ex-spouse out.” Moreover, you should explore your alternatives with your lawyer. What will be the likely outcome if you don’t negotiate with your ex-spouse? Will your ex-spouse be successful if he files a motion to reduce his child support and alimony. In this brutal economy, your ex-husband may very well be successful in any Lepis litigation. For all practical purposes, you always want to sit down and be as reasonable with your ex-husband as possible. However, you should also always be careful to protect your legal rights. Your ex-husband could obtain a new job next month and make twice as much as he earned before. Not likely, but entirely possible, and not outside the realm of possibility. Moreover, you should always be open minded. You and your ex-spouse could reach an accord on many legal issues that a court can’t address. For instance, you might agree to extend the length of the alimony payments, and thus the alimony payments can be reduced. In effect, you can effectuate a refinancing of the alimony award. Nonetheless, you should not sacrifice too much. Finally, you should also work with your lawyer to draft an agreement that provides you with some added benefits, but yet still provides your ex-husband with some financial relief from alimony and child support.