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Changed circumstances to alter support must be permanent, bankruptcy not enough

This case reiterates that a changed circumstance requirement to alter a support payment must be permanent in nature, and that filing for personal bankruptcy isn’t evidence of permanent change in earning capability.

Grier v Grier (2016)


“Although the judge noted plaintiff’s reduced income, the court also noted that the reduced reported income did not appear to be a permanent circumstance. In order to prove changed circumstances, the changed circumstances must be permanent. Ibid. (citing Lepis, supra, 83 N.J. at 157). Accordingly, we conclude that the motion judge’s decision was not based on a palpably incorrect basis. Plaintiff’s income for purposes of the PSA was originally measured by averaging several years of income. Plaintiff asserts his current income, although lower than what was reported in the PSA, is lower now because of the loss of a client. “Courts have consistently rejected requests for modification based on circumstances which are only temporary,” Lepis, supra, 151. The Court is confronted with the questions of when changed circumstances are enduring enough to warrant a modification. In other words, plaintiff must demonstrate the decline in business is permanent and inhibits his ability to earn. Although plaintiff asserts that he received a discharge in bankruptcy in 2014, he also concedes that the bankruptcy filing assisted him with debts. The motions judge correctly concluded that these facts do not evince a showing of permanent changed circumstances; rather, plaintiff’s income may rise again after a short period of time. Accordingly, there was no basis upon which the Family Part should have held a plenary hearing. See Lepis, supra, 83 N.J. at 157 (explaining that a court should hold a plenary hearing if a party makes a prima facie case of changed circumstances).”

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