Is My Divorce Agreement Permanent?  Or Is It Temporary?

You engaged in lengthy, contentious negotiations which resulted in the signing of a Marital Settlement Agreement and the entry of a Final Judgment of Divorce. Your Agreement includes provisions regarding custody and parenting time, spousal support, and the distribution of your assets and liabilities. You made your best efforts to provide for contingencies and foreseeable events, such as contribution for post-secondary educational expenses for your children. 

As a result, you may believe that the terms included in your Marital Settlement Agreement are set in stone. Unfortunately, this is not the case.The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, explained that the doctrine of change is central to the universe. Life events occur after the entry of the Judgment of Divorce which may have a significant impact on the original provisions included in the Marital Settlement Agreement. The next chapter after your divorce may involve a significant revision in your employment status, relocation or even remarriage.

The New Jersey Courts recognize the concept of a “change in circumstance” since the entry of the Judgment of Divorce which may warrant a modification to the terms of your Marital Settlement Agreement. The parties may be able to resolve these issues and enter into a Consent Order during the mediation process or it may be necessary for one of the parties to file a Post-Judgment Motion for the requested relief to be determined by the Court.

In accordance with New Jersey law, a prima facie (on its face) showing of a “change in circumstance” affecting the child’s best interest must be demonstrated to modify custody and parenting time. Other “change of circumstance” applications may be based upon a loss of employment, securing a new employment position which may affect financial obligations and/or custody/parenting time, relocation, severe illness or disability, and the emancipation of your children. Revisions in economic circumstances can affect post-judgment alimony and/or child support obligations, as can cohabitation or the remarriage of a former spouse. It should be noted that provisions regarding the equitable distribution of marital assets are final and not modifiable on a “change of circumstance” application.

It is important to be aware that post-judgment issues can be as complicated and contentious as the issues presented in the initial divorce proceeding and often take a long period of time to resolve. Retaining an experienced family law attorney with expertise in family law issues is imperative to ensure your legal positions are effectively presented during the mediation process and/or to the Court.

At Cohn Lifland, LLP, we can evaluate your specific facts in the context of New Jersey law to advance your strongest arguments and best possible outcomes with a view toward negotiating appropriate terms to be included in a Consent Order which will provide for a more permanent agreement.