Modifying a Property Settlement Agreement in New Jersey
When the judge issues a Final Court Order in a divorce case, the Order is hardly set in stone. one or both parties may over time seek to change the terms of the Order by seeking a post judgment modification. This is done by filing an application or what is referred to as a motion, which essentially asks the Court to modify the current Property Settlement Agreement or what is more commonly referred to today as a Matrimonial Settlement Agreement. The motion should be filed with the same Court where divorce was originally handled (and where the Judgment of Divorce was issued).
Parties can seek modifications to change or modify a single provision or often a number of terms within the Property Settlement Agreement, which often includes the amount of child support and/or spousal support, parenting time schedules, as well as custody arrangements. However, modifications are never granted simply because a party wants to initiate a change. New Jersey law requires there to be a “substantial change in circumstances” and often that the change is either permanent in nature and/or when dealing with custody and/or parenting time issues which may involve relocation out of state, what is in the child’s best interest, before a Property Settlement Agreement can be modified.
Courts understand that as life changes, a child’s needs often change as well. Nevertheless, the children’s best interests must be protected, so a change that furthers their interests may be granted. For example, if your Property Settlement Agreement awarded primary physical custody of your children to your former spouse, and you later learn that the parent has now developed substance abuse problems, or has been abusing the children, you may be able to petition the Court to modify custody, based on these new circumstances. Modifications may also be granted if a custodial parent wishes to relocate to a new city or state.
Support modifications are essentially based on numbers. You must be able to show that your current income calls for a modification based on how your income fits within the statutory guidelines. If the original Support Order required you to pay $1000 in child and spousal support, you may seek a reduction if you lost your job (or had to accept a pay reduction) and can no longer meet the original support obligation. Similarly, if you have increases in child care costs or your ex-spouse’s income increases, you may be subject to a support increase. Courts essentially look for at least a 20 percent deviation from the original support amount as a minimum basis for considering the granting of a modification. While this is a bare minimal requirement, Courts are overrun by support modification motions, most notably those filed pro se (without an attorney) and as such have an extremely high level of rejection by the Court. As support motions are the highest percentage of applications filed in the New Jersey family Courts, they often lack the requisite fundamental proofs that the Court requires to survive the prima facie standards that an experienced family law attorney is equipped to bring to the Court, i.e. giving them what they need to grant relief.
Every modification is different, and there is no guarantee that a motion will be granted. As such, it is important to consult an experienced family law attorney who is capable of both analyzing your case to determine its potential for relief but also to provide the requisite proofs when a legitimate case for modification exists. Contact that experienced family law practitioner to learn about your rights and options, so that you may make an informed decision.