In a recent family law case, Duffy v. Duffy, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, Docket No. A-2473-21), Husband appealed from a March 3, 2022, order concerning modifications and enforcement of a marital settlement agreement (“MSA”) with his ex-wife (“Wife”). This case is a prime example of the challenges many couples face when obtaining a divorce in New Jersey.

The Facts of the Case

The couple, who were married for less than eight years, finalized their MSA in March 2018. They have two children, ages eleven and eight, at the time of the trial court hearing. The MSA covered various aspects, including alimony, child custody, child support, and division of assets.

Alimony

Husband agreed to pay Wife limited duration alimony of $400 per week for three years, based on their respective incomes.

Child Custody and Parenting Time

The couple agreed to joint legal custody. Wife was designated the primary residential parent, with Husband having the children on alternate weekends and Thursday afternoons.

Child Support

Child support was set at $76 per week, based on the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, considering both parties’ incomes and alimony.

Division of Assets

The MSA outlined the division of various assets, including the marital residence and inherited assets from Wife’s parents.

Husband Files a Motion to Modify to MSA Based on Changed Circumstances

In February 2022, Husband filed a motion requesting various modifications to the MSA. He sought a recalculation of child support, citing the termination of alimony and Wife’s increased assets from an inheritance. He also requested more parenting time, changes in child-related expenses, and sought counsel fees, claiming Wife’s unilateral decisions regarding the children’s activities and care.

Wife filed a cross-motion, opposing Husband’s requests and seeking enforcement of the MSA’s provisions. She argued that there were no significant changes in circumstances to warrant modifications to parenting time or child support. She also requested counsel fees due to Husband’s non-compliance with the MSA.

The trial court’s tentative decision addressed these issues. It increased child support to $180 per week, denied modifications to parenting time, and addressed issues related to children’s activities and medical expenses. The court also denied both parties’ requests for counsel fees. Husband’s and Wife’s attorneys argued various points, with the court ultimately making decisions based on the MSA, the children’s best interests, and the financial circumstances of both parties.

Upon appeal, the court largely supported the trial judge’s decisions. It found no abuse of discretion in the rulings on child support, parenting time, and counsel fees. The appellate court emphasized the importance of adhering to the MSA’s terms and the necessity of considering changes in circumstances, particularly in family law matters involving children. The appeal decision highlighted the discretion of trial judges in these matters, especially regarding the calculation of child support and the determination of legal fees.

The court recognized the complexity of the case, noting the challenges in balancing the needs and rights of both parties while prioritizing the well-being of the children. It affirmed the trial court’s findings in most respects but remanded the case to correct a mathematical error in the child support calculation.

Do You Need a New Jersey Family Law Attorney’s Assistance with a Post-Judgment Divorce Modification?

If you were previously divorced, and you or your former spouse are seeking a modification to the existing order, having the assistance of an experienced NJ divorce lawyer is critical to protecting your rights and reaching your desired outcome. The knowledgeable New Jersey family law attorneys at Scully Family Law will help document your financial circumstances to present the strongest possible evidence. We also understand that re-opening a final agreement can cause significant stress and will guide you through every step of the process to help minimize the burdens placed on you while aggressively advocating for your interests. Contact the New Jersey divorce modification lawyers on our team at 743-462-1122 to schedule a free initial consultation.