Generally speaking, a final divorce decree is intended to be just that -- final. However, significant issues can arise after the divorce, which require the court's consideration and most commonly pertain to custody or support. New Jersey courts will rarely revisit a property distribution order, unless there are extreme circumstances involving fraud. Ex-spouses with post-divorce issues must file a complaint in the same New Jersey court that handled the original divorce, which is necessary to maintain consistency with the proceedings.
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In New Jersey, post-divorce modifications regarding division of property are the most rare and most frequently denied of all post-judgment motions. The general rule is that once a property distribution order is executed, ex-spouses cannot undo the court's ruling. However, the court may make an exception to this rule if a spouse purposely hid marital assets. Another reason a court may revisit a judgment post-divorce is when a spouse fails to act in accordance with a marital settlement agreement or divorce decree. An example of this would be an agreement that requires the marital home to be sold and proceeds split, but the party charged with this responsibility has refused to follow through with the settlement terms.
The court will review and modify a child custody arrangement if there has been a significant change in circumstances since the order was established and the change is necessary to uphold the child's best interests. The court will look at a variety of factors, such as discord between the parents regarding visitation, history of domestic violence, prevalence of substance abuse, stability of the home environment, preference of the child if age appropriate, changes to the child's medical or educational needs, fitness of the parents, and parents' employment responsibilities. The court will not modify a custody arrangement if there has only been a minor change in circumstances.
Child support orders are driven entirely by the parents' combined monthly income and reflect the policy that children should enjoy the same financial security they would have had if their parent's relationship had not deteriorated. Courts strive to order an amount that will not only provide for the child's needs, but also respect the noncustodial parent's ability to pay. If either parent's income significantly changes, the court may modify the child support order. For example, if the noncustodial parent's income significantly decreases due to unemployment or disability. The court will also modify child support if the child's needs change.
The court may need to modify a child support or custody order as the child gets older and circumstances change. One common issue is whether both parents are required to pay for a child's post-secondary education, despite the fact that the child has reached age 18 and is no longer considered a minor. Under New Jersey law, the court will weigh a number of factors to determine whether it is appropriate and fair to require both parents to contribute to college costs. These factors include whether the parents would have paid for college if they had not divorced; parents ability to pay; child's commitment and ability to complete college; child's financial resources, including scholarships and grants; and child's relationship to the paying parent.
Alimony modification is awarded after either party can prove a significant change in financial or personal circumstances. The court may reduce or terminate alimony if the recipient spouse cohabits with another opposite-sex adult or remarries. The court may also modify alimony if either spouse experiences a significant increase in income, such as an inheritance or promotion. Unemployment or demotion can serve as a reason to modify alimony, as well.