New Jersey divorce, child support and alimony orders are often the result of careful and extensive negotiations. But what happens if a former spouse remarries? What if they have more children?
Child support and alimony payments can absolutely be impacted by these life changes, but never act on a presumption without first talking to a family law attorney. The remarriage of the former spouse receiving alimony is usually grounds to terminate alimony. And when a new child is born of another marriage or union between the paying spouse and someone else, this can’t be ignored in calculating any new or modified orders. However, a formal court approval of a request for modification is necessary to make any enforceable changes to existing orders.
The Basics of Alimony and Child Support
Alimony is not a given in any divorce, but may be awarded per N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 to limit any unfair economic effects of a divorce by providing continuing income to the non-wage-earning or lower-wage-earning spouse. Child support after divorce is viewed as necessary to ensure the child’s basic needs are provided by his/her parents. (As the New Jersey Court of Appeals ruled in a 1990 child support case, “There is no divorce between parent and a child.”)
Child support especially is seen as a continuing duty that may be modified if one can show a change of circumstances. Even if alimony is terminated, child support may not be impacted at all. New Jersey courts have also held that that increases in child support may be justified – even if the paying parent is now supporting a second family.
The New Jersey child support guidelines are generally presumed to be correct in any given case. However, that presumption is rebuttable, which means the circumstances used in establishing the guidelines might not be appropriate for the situation at hand.
How a Second Marriage, Family Affects Support Obligations
The obligation to support one’s family is considered of the utmost importance, and it isn’t limited or requalified by a remarriage – even if the fact of a second marriage might make maintaining one’s first family inconvenient or burdensome (i.e., to do so would be to result in depriving the payor of certain conveniences or luxuries), that is not considered a reason to reduce the primary obligation. Nor is it generally considered the basis for child support reduction if the payor has difficulty maintaining the kind of lifestyle they enjoyed prior because they are now supporting two families.
Alimony obligations can be terminated if the receiver gets remarried or enters into a civil union, but the same is not conversely true for the payor. In the 1958 case of Bartok v. Bartok, the New Jersey Court of Appeals ruled a husband wasn’t entitled to revise his alimony on the basis of changed circumstances due to his second marriage. More recently, the same court ruled in Wei v. Wei that a husband who remarried did not show changed circumstances sufficient enough to warrant modification of child support and alimony. The court stated flatly that, “it hardly supports the proposition that a second marriage (by the payor of alimony/support) may be excused in whole or in part from those obligations by remarrying and voluntarily assuming additional obligations” that might conflict with the divorce settlement agreement.
That said, the birth of a new child (or children) could impact child support obligations if the payor makes a modification request citing the new child as an “other dependent deduction.” This provision of New Jersey Child Support Guidelines holds that all legal dependents – regardless of when they were born or their family association – are entitled to an equitable portion of the parent’s income. Legal dependents include both natural and adopted children who are either under 18 or over 18 and still attending high school or secondary school. In general, stepchildren aren’t considered legal dependents unless the court finds the stepparent/payor has a legal responsibility for them. A new spouse has no obligation to the children of the other party by a previous marriage except in cases of an in loco parentis relationship.
If you have questions about filing for a modification of an existing child support or alimony order or challenging a request for modification, our Monmouth County child support lawyers can help.
Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today at (732) 810-0034 for a free and confidential consultation.