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Affording Divorce in a Recession

June 17, 2009

Today’s NJ Law Journal reports that there is an increase in court applications seeking to review child support and alimony orders.  In a survey of members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 39% report an increase in child support applications and 42% report an increase in alimony applications.  Surely, this comes as no surprise to anyone who has lost their job and can no longer afford to meet the obligations of their child support or alimony.  Yet, what about the former spouse who needs the child support or alimony to support their expenses?  And what if both former spouses have lost formerly well-paying jobs?

New Jersey case law permits either the person paying the support or the person receiving it, to seek a modification if there is a “significant” change of circumstances.  What litigants sometimes don’t realize, however, is that the application process itself can be costly — and sometimes protracted.  It is often difficult for a judge to determine whether a modification is warranted.  In those situations, the court can order a hearing — with testimony and evidence.  This is expensive.

When money is an issue — and when is it not? — the parties can try to resolve the modification issues through mediation.  With the help of the mediator, the parties can informally exchange and review appropriate financial documentation.  They can discuss creative solutions, either temporary or permanent, to address their particular issues.  The process is far less expensive than taking the matter to court.  And mediation avoids pitting one former spouse against the other — allowing a reasonable resolution to be reached where the children’s best interests can be considered.