When It Comes to Petition to Terminate Child Support, Court May Consider Eventual Retreat – No, Really, the Possibility | Fox Rothschild LLP

When the Alimony Act was amended in 2014, in addition to setting 67 as the deemed good faith retirement age, it also included several standards for the court to consider when a party sought to set end or modify alimony based on retirement. One standard related to divorces prior to the new law and another related to divorces occurring after the law.

Specifically, pursuant to NJSA 2A:34-23(j)”[a]The surety may be modified or terminated upon the eventual or actual retirement of the debtor. We previously blogged about the trial court opinion in Mueller v. Mueller of 2016, in which the trial court said a claim filed at age 62, apparently 5 years before retirement, was too soon. There have not been many laws on this issue since that time. That said, the law remains in force and the courts must take it into account.

This was the case in Mulholland v. Sweigart, an unreported (unprecedented) Appellate Division decision dated May 18, 2022. In this case, the parties divorced in 2013 after 31 years. Their Property Settlement Agreement (PSA) provided for ongoing spousal support. Alimony was based on the wife’s imputed annual income of $35,000 and the husband’s agreed income of $416,000 as the sole shareholder of his business. This divorce obviously predates the change in the law.

In 2019, the husband sought to have his child support terminated based on an alleged plan to sell his business and retire. The motions judge denied that his motion was immature because he had no specific plan to sell the business. About a year later, he decided to terminate his alimony effective 12/31/21, in which he filed a certification stating that he would soon be sixty-eight years old and that during the marriage “he was expected that [husband] would eventually sell the business and retire. He claimed that he had “exploited [his] company to a reduced status due to [his] age and health” over the past two years, had “reduced [his] hours and responsibilities and [had] transferred them to [his] employees”, and had reduced his salary to $285,358 in 2018 and $184,523 in 2019 “to reflect this transfer and facilitate the transition to [his] retirement.” He certified that he had reached an agreement to sell his business “with a target closing date of December 31, 2020” and attached a vesting terms sheet memorizing the proposed terms of the sale. The closing n did not take place on that date or thereafter. The ex-wife objected to the motion claiming that the husband had always said he would work until his death. She also claimed that the alleged sale was a fictitious transaction with her long-time employee and right-hand man.Trial judge dismissed the motion mainly because the sale of the business had not taken place, said the husband could present another petition during the sale of the business and specifically concluded that he was denying the petition “…because he could not ‘make decisions on conditional precedents’.” ”

Husband asked for reconsideration saying he couldn’t complete the sale without knowing if the court would grant his relief saying he couldn’t “terminate in good faith [his] any earning capacity without specific authorization from the court, or
estimate of [his] alimony obligation in the future. He also argued that the judge was wrong to refuse to consider his future retirement obligation. The motion for reconsideration was dismissed, finding:

“there has been no change in circumstances because . . . retirement is the key to selling the business. The motions judge advised that the defendant’s actual retirement and sale of his business “would create a change in circumstances[maisnousnesommespas
là encore.

Cet appel a suivi et la Division d’appel a infirmé la décision du tribunal de première instance et a ordonné une audience sur la demande du mari, concluant que

En rejetant la requête du défendeur sans tenir compte de la NJSA 2A: 34-23 (j) (3) ou des facteurs qui y sont énumérés, le juge de la requête a mal appliqué la loi. » Le juge saisi de la requête a refusé de tenir compte de ces facteurs requis par la loi parce que le défendeur n’avait pas encore vendu son entreprise. Avec ce raisonnement, le juge saisi de la motion n’a pas tenu compte du langage clair et sans ambiguïté de la loi. L’alinéa (j) de la loi permet à la pension alimentaire “d’être modifiée ou résiliée lors du départ à la retraite éventuel ou effectif du débiteur”. NJSA 2A:34-23(j). En exigeant la vente effective de l’entreprise du défendeur avant qu’il n’examine les dispositions de la NJSA 2A:34-23(j)(3), le juge saisi de la requête a ignoré le mot « prospectif » dans la loi. Les tribunaux ne peuvent ignorer le langage législatif.

La Division d’appel a poursuivi en notant que “… en incluant le mot “prospectif” dans cet amendement, le législateur, par son langage clair, voulait clairement qu’un débiteur n’ait pas à attendre après sa retraite effective avant de modifier ou de résilier pension.

Alors que la femme a fait valoir qu’elle n’aurait jamais accepté le PSA si elle pensait que la pension alimentaire ne serait que de 7 ans, cet argument me sonne creux. Même avant l’amendement de 2014 à la loi sur la pension alimentaire, il existait une jurisprudence concernant la retraite comme un changement potentiel de circonstances, même si elle n’était pas spécifiquement réservée dans l’Accord. En fait, la plupart des avocats compétents n’autoriseraient jamais prospectivement la retraite à mettre fin à la pension alimentaire. Au mieux, vous pourriez peut-être amener quelqu’un à accepter que la pension alimentaire puisse être réexaminée à la retraite conformément à la loi alors en vigueur (similaire au langage parfois utilisé pour la cohabitation avant 2014).

Mais cela soulève un problème commun dans les «divorces gris» après des mariages de longue durée qui mériteraient une pension alimentaire à durée indéterminée (auparavant permanente). C’est-à-dire que le terme de pension alimentaire à durée indéterminée ou permanente a toujours été illusoire car la retraite, la réduction des revenus, l’invalidité, la cohabitation, etc. ont longtemps été des changements de circonstances possibles. Parfois, les gens négocient en fait des dates de fin pour ce qui autrement serait une pension alimentaire à durée indéterminée. Par exemple, si les parties divorcent lorsque le payeur a 64 ans, il peut y avoir des circonstances où la négociation d’un terme a du sens, ou le couplage de la résiliation avec la retraite effective, etc.

Quoi qu’il en soit, cette affaire nous rappelle que le libellé de la loi concernant la retraite potentielle est plus qu’un simple conseil.

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