On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division-Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FM-13-664-96C.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Cuff and Fisher.
In this post-judgment matrimonial matter, plaintiff Leon Williams appeals an order denying his motion to reduce his alimony obligation to defendant Dawn Williams. We affirm.
The parties divorced in 1996 following a twenty-year marriage. The Dual Judgment of Divorce required plaintiff to pay alimony in the amount of $1000 monthly to defendant. Plaintiff continued to pay alimony on a monthly basis until July 2006.
It is undisputed that plaintiff was employed by JP Morgan Chase (Chase) for many years in its information technology department. In August 2006, plaintiff lost his job. He was making $185,000 annually and received a one-year severance.
In October 2006, plaintiff filed a motion to modify alimony based on cohabitation by defendant. On November 16, 2006, the motion was denied without prejudice. The judge did, however, allow a sixty-day period of discovery to explore whether the cohabitation conferred an economic benefit on defendant. Plaintiff did not conduct any discovery or pay alimony. In August 2008, defendant filed a motion to enforce plaintiff's obligation to pay alimony. Plaintiff filed a cross-motion to terminate alimony based on changed circumstances.
In support of his August 2008 cross-motion, plaintiff asserted that his severance pay ceased in August 2007, that he had tried but failed to find comparable work, and that he had attempted unsuccessfully to establish a consultant business focusing on information technology. Furthermore, he alleged that the only employment he could obtain was a position in a florist shop. Defendant asserts, and plaintiff does not deny, the florist shop is owned and operated by plaintiff's girlfriend.
In the Case Information Statement (CIS) that accompanied his motion, plaintiff stated that he received $1,733.33 in gross monthly income ($20,800 annually), and had monthly shelter expenses of $820, monthly transportation expenses of $588, and personal expenses, exclusive of alimony, of $1895. He also disclosed a savings account with a balance of $90,000, three vehicles valued at $33,000, and an Individual Retirement Account valued at approximately $676,000.*fn1 Plaintiff revealed modest liabilities totaling $10,000.
By contrast, defendant's CIS revealed $49,000 annual salary as a teacher, $823 annual pension, and $10,000 annual rent from a condominium owned by her. Her monthly shelter expenses, including costs associated with the leased condominium, totaled $2687, her monthly transportation expenses totaled $177, and her personal expenses totaled $430. She revealed approximately $292,000 in assets and $88,000 in liabilities.
Judge Coogan denied plaintiff's motion. Although plaintiff had lost his job and had not obtained similar employment, the judge found that plaintiff did not establish a prima facie case of changed circumstances. The judge found that plaintiff had sufficient assets to continue to meet his alimony obligation. He noted that plaintiff received a year's salary as severance but ceased to pay his alimony upon termination of his employment. Judge Coogan also granted defendant's motion to enforce the alimony obligation. He found that plaintiff owed $27,000 to defendant and ordered him to pay $2500 each month ($1500 attributable to arrears and $1000 to alimony). Judge Coogan stayed this order conditioned on a deposit of $15,000 with the Probation Department.
On appeal, plaintiff argues that he established a prima facie case of changed circumstances that entitled him to an order terminating his alimony obligation. In the alternative, he urges that the judge should have conducted an evidentiary hearing on the issue. Defendant argues that the motion judge properly denied plaintiff's motion because he failed to establish a prima facie case of changed circumstances.
Orders for support "may be revised and altered by the court from time to time as circumstances may require." N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23. The moving party bears the burden to make a prima facie showing of changed circumstances. Isaacson v. Isaacson, 348 N.J. Super. 560, 579 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 174 N.J. 364 (2002). A decrease in the obligor's income may be a changed ...