Can I Modify My Alimony Payments due to Covid-19?

Written by Marissa A. Del Mauro

We are living in unprecedented times as the global pandemic of Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc on our family, friends and neighbors. In New Jersey, we are into week 9 of a state-wide quarantine that has left a significant number of New Jersey residents furloughed, terminated or sustaining an income reduction. According to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, as of May 7, 2020, the New Jersey Department of Labor has distributed $1.9 billion in income-supplementing benefits since the COVID-19 pandemic began in mid-March. Since COVID-19 hit New Jersey in mid-March, 1,018,785 unemployment claims have been filed, by far the most ever recorded for a similar period.

This now begs the question for New Jersey payors of support, “Can I modify my alimony payments due to having suffered a job loss, furlough or income reduction due to Covid-19?”  The answer lies in the current New Jersey statute N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(k).

When a non-self-employed party seeks modification of alimony, the court shall consider the following factors:

(1) The reasons for any loss of income;

(2) Under circumstances where there has been a loss of employment, the obligor’s documented efforts to obtain replacement employment or to pursue an alternative occupation;

(3) Under circumstances where there has been a loss of employment, whether the obligor is making a good faith effort to find remunerative employment at any level and in any field;

(4) The income of the obligee; the obligee’s circumstances; and the obligee’s reasonable efforts to obtain employment in view of those circumstances and existing opportunities;

(5) The impact of the parties’ health on their ability to obtain employment;

(6) Any severance compensation or award made in connection with any loss of employment;

(7) Any changes in the respective financial circumstances of the parties that have occurred since the date of the order from which modification is sought;

(8) The reasons for any change in either party’s financial circumstances since the date of the order from which modification is sought, including, but not limited to, assessment of the extent to which either party’s financial circumstances at the time of the application are attributable to enhanced earnings or financial benefits received from any source since the date of the order;

(9) Whether a temporary remedy should be fashioned to provide adjustment of the support award from which modification is sought, and the terms of any such adjustment, pending continuing employment investigations by the unemployed spouse or partner; and

(10) Any other factor the court deems relevant to fairly and equitably decide the application.

In cases where the changed circumstances arise from the loss of employment, the length of time a party has been involuntarily unemployed or has had an involuntary reduction in income shall not be the only factor considered by the court when an application is filed by a non-self-employed party to reduce alimony because of involuntary loss of employment. The court shall determine the application based upon all of the enumerated factors, however, no application shall be filed until a party has been unemployed, or has not been able to return to or attain employment at prior income levels, or both, for a period of 90 days. The court shall have discretion to make any relief granted retroactive to the date of the loss of employment or reduction of income.

As to self-employed payors, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(l) provides:

When a self-employed party seeks modification of alimony because of an involuntary reduction in income since the date of the order from which modification is sought, then that party’s application for relief must include an analysis that sets forth the economic and non-economic benefits the party receives from the business, and which compares these economic and non-economic benefits to those that were in existence at the time of the entry of the order.

Finally, as to both non-self employed and self-employed payors, under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(m), when assessing a temporary remedy, the court may temporarily suspend support, or reduce support on terms; direct that support be paid in some amount from assets pending further proceedings; direct a periodic review; or enter any other order the court finds appropriate to assure fairness and equity to both parties.

Whether you are non-self employed or self-employed, it is important to note that it is a case-by-case, fact sensitive analysis as to whether your current furlough, job loss or reduction in income due to Covid-19 constitutes a significant and permanent decrease in your income that would modify your support payments. In some cases, a furlough and income reduction may be seen as a temporary change in circumstance as a countless number of companies and businesses have instituted such measures to say afloat. That being said, as a court of equity, our family courts in New Jersey have the equitable power to fashion temporary remedies to suspend or reduce support and impose other remedies as they see fit.

It is important for payors of support in New Jersey to speak with knowledgeable lawyers who stay current on New Jersey law and the impact of Covid-19. For more information regarding the effects of Covid-19 on support payments and modification of support payments in New Jersey contact the Law Office of Lyons & Associates, P.CAt the Law Office of Lyons & Associates, our team represents payors of alimony and child support throughout New Jersey.  We place a premium on personalized service and attention. For a private consultation, contact us by e-mail, visit our website, or call our office at 908-575-9777.