Ending a marriage is almost always an emotional and complicated process. In New Jersey, one of the most difficult issues that can arise during a divorce is the court’s determination of alimony, also referred to as spousal support.
Alimony is a court-ordered payment that one spouse makes to the other, presumably while the receiving spouse takes steps to become self-supporting. The court’s determination of the appropriate amount of alimony to be paid, and for what duration, is often hotly contested, with the prospective payor-spouse often seeking to minimize their financial means, while the prospective recipient of the alimony attempts the opposite.
A case decided earlier this month provides an example. The case is Guinta v. Fahey, 2021 WL 5764251, Superior Court Docket No. A-0973-20 (Dec. 6, 2021).
In this case, a trial court had ordered a husband to pay $2,500 per month in alimony to his wife for a period of twelve years. The husband, who was unemployed, challenged the court’s order, arguing that the alimony award was too high. His argument hinged on his assertion that his unemployment was not voluntary and that it was wrong for the court to treat him as though he were still earning a six-figure salary.
The husband’s challenge was unsuccessful.
In the opinion, the Court explained the proper method for imputing income to an unemployed spouse for the purpose of determining alimony. In a divorce case, imputing income essentially means assigning a fixed rate of income to a spouse regardless of their current circumstances. For example, in this case, the trial court imputed an income of $120,000 to the husband, despite the fact that he was unemployed at the time of the divorce trial.
In upholding the trial court’s decision, the Appellate Court explained that income can be properly imputed to a spouse who is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. A spouse is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed when he/she intentionally earns less money than he/she is capable of earning.
The Court stated that, given the husband’s long career in the financial industry and the fact that he had been making nearly $200,000 per year before his recent firing, it was reasonable for the trial court to impute $120,000 of income to him.
As this case demonstrates, even if a spouse is jobless and actively job hunting, he or she may still become financially responsible for alimony payments.
Fortunately for the husband in this case, and for others who are in a similar situation, an alimony obligation may be revisited and possibly modified upon a change of circumstance. With the help of an experienced family law attorney, a payor spouse may be able to have an alimony obligation modified as to its amount, duration, or both.
Consult a New Jersey Family Law Attorney
If you are involved in an alimony dispute, you deserve a lawyer who understands the stress you are undergoing and who is committed to fighting aggressively for your cause. With over a decade of experience in divorce and alimony cases, Scully Family Law is prepared to advocate to the fullest extent of the law to help people like you get the outcome you deserve. Our New Jersey divorce lawyer provides each client with tailored services and undivided attention, including 24/7 availability, by cell phone. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation, call us today at 743-462-1122. You can also reach us online through our convenient contact form.