New Jersey Appellate Court Clarifies When Party is Disabled for Alimony and Child Support
New Jersey’s Appellate Division recently discussed how to evaluate the income of a party who has been officially deemed disabled, including whether to impute any income. The decision is unpublished, meaning it does not count as precedent, but it provides a useful illustration as to how New Jersey courts calculate income for the purposes of alimony. Speak with a dedicated New Jersey alimony and support modification lawyer if you need assistance with a New Jersey family law matter.
Trial court cannot make its own lay determination about disability
The parties in Gormley v. Gormley married in 2000, had a child in 2004, separated in 2012, and filed for divorce in 2015. At the time the parties were married, the defendant had already been deemed disabled by the Social Security Administration (SSA) due to multiple sclerosis (MS). As a result, she was unemployed. The plaintiff had a regular income, although he reduced his work hours in the months leading up to trial to research psychology and focus on preparing for trial. The family court granted the defendant sole legal custody and barred any parenting time for the plaintiff. The court imputed an income of $240 per week to the defendant for the purposes of child support and alimony, imputed no income to the plaintiff, and ordered the plaintiff to pay $200 in alimony weekly to the defendant.
Concerning the imputed income to the defendant, the court acknowledged she had been deemed disabled by the SSA and found that she received $2023 per month from social security. However, the court stated that it did not see her exhibit any symptoms of MS during the trial. Additionally, the defendant admitted to undertaking caregiving activities towards her daughter. The concluded that her unemployment was voluntary, not due to disability.
The Appellate Division disagreed. The SSA’s determination created prima facie proof of the defendant’s disability, and the plaintiff provided no evidence to rebut that presumption. The defendant, therefore, was disabled, her unemployment was not voluntary, and the court should not have imputed earned income to the defendant.
Income calculation shouldn’t reflect a party’s reduced hours to work on the case
The Appellate Division also found error in the trial court’s reliance on the income earned by the plaintiff just before the trial. The trial court should have based support obligations on the plaintiff’s income for the two years prior to trial, reflecting his “potential earning capacity,” rather than his actual income at the time of the trial. If an individual’s income varies, the court can reasonably use an average income to calculate the ability to pay support.
Call for Help With a New Jersey Alimony Dispute
If you are dealing with alimony, child support, or any other family law issues in New Jersey, speak with a knowledgeable and compassionate alimony and family law attorney at the Union offices of John B. D’Alessandro. Call us today at 908-964-0102.