Should a Post-Complaint Rise in Income be Considered in Determining Alimony?

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In determining alimony, we are compelled to take into consideration the 13 factors set forth in our statute. Of utmost importance is the actual need of one spouse and ability of the other spouse to pay, along with the duration of the marriage and the standard of living established during the marriage.


In a recent case (Dudas v. Dudas, decided on April 11, 2011), the Defendant/Husband earned between $40,000 and $59,000, towards the end of the marriage. A Complaint for Divorce was filed in 2008, and the case was tried in 2011. Over those years, the Husband’s income increased wherein he earned $64,000 in 2009, $76,000 in 2010 and $68,000 in 2011.


The Defendant argued that his post-Complaint income should not be considered in any alimony calculus and that only the income he earned up to the date of the Complaint should be considered, since the parties’ standard of living was based on his pre-Complaint income.


While the standard of living established during the marriage is a predominant consideration, this factor does not stand alone. The Court held that the actual need and ability of a party to pay directs an analysis of the parties’ present needs and ability to pay, not the past. One of the other factors is the earning capacities of the parties which is also a current consideration.
 

The Dudas Court also considered two additional factors under the catch-all factor of “any other factors which a court may deem relevant.”  They are:

  1. the marginal cost estimation; and
  2. momentum of the marriage

The marginal cost estimation has to do with the fact that a couple living together is less expensive than a couple living separately in two households. Further, once each party establishes their separate residence, each party’s new budget is not 50% of the marital budget, it is generally more, and may not be substantially less than the two person household budget. In many divorce cases, when the parties separate, there is insufficient money available for either party to maintain the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage.
 

In the Dudas case, the Court felt it was fair to bring both parties reasonably closer to the marital standard of living, which could only happen by looking to the husband’s increased available funds after the Complaint date.
 

Momentum of the marriage recognizes the fact that one’s occupational efforts may take years to pay off. A person’s earning level may start out slow, but through experience, education and perseverance, it may increase dramatically the longer a person works in that particular field.
 

Therefore if a party focuses on his career throughout the course of a marriage, while the other party, as in the Dudas case, maintained the home, cared for the children and provided support and encouragement for the husband in his professional endeavors, then a post-Complaint rise in income will be considered in determining alimony.

 

Maria Imbalzano is the Co-Chair of Stark & Stark’s Divorce Group in the Lawrenceville, New Jersey office. For questions, please contact Ms. Imbalzano: mimbalzano@stark-stark.com.

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