Do I Have To Pay Alimony If I Don’t Have An Income?

As of December 2020, there were 339,700 people in New Jersey who were unemployed according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. Are you one of those currently experiencing a job loss who has to pay alimony? Are you concerned you will have to continue to pay alimony even if you do not have any income? The law is sympathetic when the loss of employment is involuntary.

Spousal support, otherwise known as alimony, is intended to maintain the economic status for the dependent spouse similar as experienced during the marriage. New Jersey family law has held that such a support obligation is always subject to modification or termination.[1] Courts may adjust alimony if there’s been a change in circumstances.

What constitutes a change in circumstances? According to N.J.S.2A:34-23:

Under circumstances where the changed circumstances arise from the loss of employment, the length of time a party has been involuntarily unemployed or has had an involuntary reduction in income shall not be the only factor considered by the court when an application is filed by a non-self-employed party to reduce alimony because of involuntary loss of employment. The court shall determine the application based upon all of the enumerated factors, however, no application shall be filed until a party has been unemployed, or has not been able to return to or attain employment at prior income levels, or both, for a period of 90 days. The court shall have discretion to make any relief granted retroactive to the date of the loss of employment or reduction of income.[2]

Many people suffering an economic hardship due to the coronavirus likely fall under the “lose of employment” category. The court in Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980), listed the following as some of the changed circumstances that courts have recognized as reasons to reduce alimony:

  • An increase in the cost of living;
  • An increase or decrease in supporting spouses’ income;
  • Illness, disability, or infirmity after the divorce;
  • Unemployment by the payor.

The most common scenarios for a change in circumstances include:

  • A reduction in a party’s income;
  • Illness;
  • Retirement;
  • Refusal or inability to find employment;
  • The receipt of a large inheritance.[3]

If you go to court and say, “I am no longer making $80,000 per year, because I am pursuing my life-long dream as a professional burger-flipper, please reduce my alimony.” The Court can say, “No, we know what you are capable of making, and for the purposes of alimony, we will set an income regardless of your situation.”[4]

The impact of a job loss due to circumstances beyond your control, such as the closing of a business or loss of employment due to the effects of the pandemic, is very different from the situation described above. Many people don’t know how long they’ll be out of work. Thus, a change like this warrants an alimony reduction or waiver.

In sum: don’t panic. Reach out to your lawyer as soon as possible to describe your situation. Your attorney can get in contact with the court to get your spousal support adjusted. In times like these, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Courts are understanding and sympathetic to situations out our control.

[1] “Changed Circumstances: Modifying or Terminating Alimony in New Jersey.” Snyder Sarno D’Aniello Maceri & Da Costa LLC, 8 Feb. 2018, www.snydersarno.com/blog/2018/02/08/changed-circumstances-modifying-or-terminating-189109.

[2] N.J.S.2A:34-23

[3] Sliwinski, Theodore. “New Jersey Divorce Source: Alimony Reduction in New Jersey.” Divorcesource.com, www.divorcesource.com/ds/newjersey/alimony-reduction-in-new-jersey-4177.shtml.

[4] McCumber, Kim, and Alphonse Provinziano. “If I Quit My Job, Do I Still Have to Pay Alimony?” Provinziano & Associates, 9 Feb. 2018, provinziano.com/blog/if-i-quit-job-still-pay-alimony/.