In a novel case recently filed in Morris County, New Jersey a wife is making a claim for alimony against her husband’s parents!

Although there is existing case law in New Jersey which supports the proposition that gifts from parents may be considered as a part of a person’s income fro the purpose of computing their ability to pay alimony, there is no known case in which a direct claim has been made a husband’s parents for the payment of alimony to his wife.

Cynthia Idleman claims that after her husband lost his job and suffered a disabling medical condition his parents have supported their family for the last two years by giving them about $20,000 per month. She claims that by having done so, “they have stepped into the shoes of their son” and, thereby, assumed a continuing obligation to support not only their grandchildren, but also her.

Although Douglas Idleman’s only income is $3,648 per month form social security disability and inheritance income, he is willing to pay his wife almost $8,000 per month admittedly with help form his parents..

Apparently that does not satisfy Mrs. Idleman, who instead seeks to impose a direct support obligation upon Mr. Idleman’s parents presumably closer to the $20,000 per month which they had previously gifted to the family.

The novel and creative claim raises a variety of legal and practical issues. Not the least of which is the broad departure from existing law which defines alimony as payments by a spouse to a spouse at the time of a divorce.

In addition, experienced divorce attorneys further question the impact of such a decision upon the ability of grandparents to extend generosity to children=s families, and the limits as to where such an argument would extend.

If grandparents have allowed the family to use their shore home for summer vacations, can a divorcing wife seek to compel them to continue to do so for her post divorce?

If a grandparent has provided childcare during the marriage are they compelled to continue it or offer a cash equivalent for the wife to replace the lost care post divorce?

In short, does one become obligated by their generosity?

The initial consensus of legal opinion would seem to be “no”, but only time will tell how the Court’s may view Ms. Idleman’s claims and/or how her claims may affect future cases.