On appeal from the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Family Part, Passaic County.
Pressler, Landau and Lowengrub. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pressler, P.J.A.D.
Plaintiff M. Arthur Beck and defendant Susan M. Beck were divorced by judgment entered on June 17, 1979. During the nearly eleven years which have since elapsed, there have been frequent post-judgment applications to enforce, modify or terminate various of the obligations then imposed upon the parties. The present appeal is taken by plaintiff from an order entered on March 31, 1989, on defendant's enforcement motion which fixed his then arrearages at $7,775.02 and, by inference, denied his cross-motion for termination or, alternatively, reduction of his support obligation. We reverse and remand for an evidentiary hearing.
We review first the judicial history of plaintiff's support obligations. The judgment of divorce required him to pay defendant annual support designated as "unallocated alimony" in the amount of $29,000. It further provided that on emancipation of the elder of the parties' two daughters, then ten, alimony would be reduced to $27,000, and upon emancipation of the younger, then eight, alimony would be further reduced to
$23,000.*fn1 Contingent child support provisions were made in the event of defendant's remarriage, and various other collateral support obligations imposed on plaintiff. This basic scheme was modified by order entered May 1, 1980, which increased the annual unallocated alimony to $37,000, subject to reduction to $32,000 and then to $23,000 as the children were emancipated.
In 1985, plaintiff moved for termination or reduction of alimony on the ground that defendant, who had not been employed outside the home at the time of the divorce, had since obtained some employment, held two masters degrees, and was capable of self-support. In a lengthy written opinion issued after a plenary hearing, the motion judge concluded that while termination of alimony was not then appropriate in the circumstances, nevertheless defendant was
well equipped to engage in a form of employment which will provide a salary commensurate with her skills and experience, and which will assist in mitigating the support obligation of [plaintiff]. As such, the Court will order a 25% reduction in the amount of alimony currently being paid by [plaintiff].
Accordingly, an order was entered on August 20, 1985, reducing the unallocated alimony to $27,750 with a reduction of $4,600 and $9,400 upon the children's respective emancipations.
In the fall of 1986, the older daughter started college. On plaintiff's application the then motion judge, in September 1986, ordered a further reduction in unallocated alimony in the amount of $4,600 but directed plaintiff to assume the full costs of her education, which he did.
The next significant litigation events are those directly in issue here. In August of 1988 plaintiff again moved for termination of alimony. This motion was supported by his certification in which he recited with specificity the facts underlying his assertions that his income as a commercial photographer had declined dramatically over the last several years and
appeared likely to continue to decline, that his support obligation for the children had increased dramatically by reason of the fact that in September both would be attending college, and that defendant's income had increased dramatically by reason of her receipt of substantial earned and unearned income. The certification was supported by his corporation's 1986 and 1987 financial statements and by his personal 1987 federal income tax return, which showed a decline in personal income from the level of previous years. Plaintiff's motion was not heard until September 23, 1988. Prior to that date, plaintiff had unilaterally adjusted the unallocated alimony to treat the second daughter's imminent college attendance in the same manner as the court had treated the elder's in 1986, namely, by assuming all of the ...