Post-Judgment Modifications in New Jersey Family Law

Jun 01, 2020

Your divorce is not finalized until a Judgment of Divorce is entered by the court.  Typically, the Judgment incorporates an agreement between you and your now ex-spouse governing what happens moving forward.   

While the agreement you entered was intended to be final, New Jersey courts have recognized that life is unpredictable, and circumstances change.  Especially after a divorce, you may experience a significant change in circumstances that warrants modification of the divorce agreement or court order.    

There are numerous reasons why you might seek post-judgment modifications, but some of the most common include the following: 

Modification or Termination of Support Obligations

Arguably the most contentions part of a divorce involves reaching an agreement regarding post-judgment financial obligations, such as child support and alimony.  

Child support is largely a function of the child’s needs, which, as a parent, you well know are always changing.  When they do, for example when your child enters daycare or (fast-forward) college, modification of child support may be necessary.  The income of both parents also plays an important part in not only establishing child support, but in subsequently modifying the obligation.  After all, the first line of the Child Support Guidelines is “gross taxable income.”  Consequently, when either parent’s income significantly changes due to circumstances out of their control, a motion to modify child support may be appropriate.    

Modification of alimony takes on a slightly different analysis and focuses on the obligor’s ability to pay. If you wish to modify alimony, you must demonstrate that you have experienced a substantial financial change in circumstances.  The analysis requires a comparison of your financial picture at the time of the divorce agreement or court order versus now.  

Changes in Child Custody and Parenting Time

After your divorce, the new chapter of your life may take the form of a significant change in employment, relocation, or even remarriage.  Whatever the change in circumstances, modification of the custody and parenting time agreement with your ex-spouse may be required.  

In New Jersey, a substantial change in circumstances must be demonstrated to modify custody.  In addition, the proposed change in custody or parenting time must contemplate the court’s paramount consideration of the child’s best interests.    

Relocation motions can be particularly challenging because of the high burden imposed on the party seeking to relocate with the children.  The moving party must prove that relocation would better serve the child’s interests.  The court considers a host of factors for relocation motions, such as the fitness of the parents, the parent’s ability to agree, communicate and cooperate on matters relating to the child, and the stability of the home environment to meet the needs of the child.

Modification of Payments for College Tuition and Expenses     

New Jersey case law has evolved to require parents to contribute to their children’s college tuition and expenses if they have the financial means.  Courts consider twelve factors to determine each parent’s proportional contribution.  The factors include each parent’s respective ability to pay and their expectations during the marriage as to whether the child would attend college.  Like other post-judgment support obligations, college contribution is typically subject to modification.  

Enforcement of Marital Agreements or Court Orders

Enforcement motions are the exact opposite of modification motions and work two ways: offensively and defensively.   On offense, motions to enforce are typically straightforward and occur when one party is in non-compliance with the marital agreement or court order.  On defense, responsive motions to enforce are more complicated and often require further litigation.  In either case, a motion to enforce is a routine but nonetheless important aspect of post-judgment litigation strategy.