Bad Behavior and Alimony: How Your Actions Can Affect Payments

A contentious divorce can get ugly on both sides, with soon-to-be former spouses firing just as many accusations as motions in court. The issue of alimony or spousal support can be one of the most hard-fought matters of the dissolution. Attorneys for each spouse usually employee forensic accountants and other financial experts to determine the marital assets, each spouse’s earning potential and style of living during the marriage. Fault in a divorce rarely factors into a court’s determination of support, though there are some instances where bad or illegal behavior may sway opinion.

Intentional Harming by a Dependent Spouse

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Courts in New Jersey hold a thin line when it comes to “egregious” behavior on the part of a dependent spouse. Usually, the only event that courts may consider particularly heinous are assaults or murder attempts by dependent spouses against spouses providing the financial support. Trying to kill your ex-husband is a sure way to get a court to cancel an order for support, as is intentionally infecting them with an “abhorrent” disease. In these instances, the court can outright bar spousal claims to alimony, meaning the existing order vacates and there may be no opportunity to reapply.

Hiding Money during the Marriage

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Maintaining separate assets from a spouse during the marriage may not be enough to affect alimony, unless the court believes the deception had a significant financial impact on marital assets. In 2012, the Appellate Court in New Jersey overturned a trial court’s earlier decision, cancelling an alimony order because the spouse maintained separate savings accounts in her own name during the marriage without her husband’s knowledge. The wife managed to funnel $400,000 from a pharmacy the couple owned together as a business and place those funds in her own accounts. After hearing arguments, the Appellate Court ruled that the wife’s actions had a significant impact on the worth of the business, and referred the case back to the trial court for further decision.

Marital Fault Reducing Alimony Payments

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Marital fault rarely sways a court’s opinion regarding spousal support. However, in cases where the court believes the at-fault actions of one spouse have affected the economic life of the other, a judgment for alimony may be altered instead of barred altogether. In those instances, the court measures the financial impact on the spouse providing support, and makes a commensurate deduction in the support based on that impact. For example, in the above case, the court could’ve deducted the wife’s $400,000 in siphoned funds in her accounts as the baseline deduction. Any alimony owed to her would shrink by this amount. Alternatively, the court could order the spouse to repay all or portions of the amount held out from the marriage, and continue the order for support unaffected.

Don’t Count on Adultery for Spousal Support

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There might not be a bigger breach of marital trust or vows than adultery. The mental scars such an act can leave could last a lifetime, even affect relationships down the road. Don’t count on a spouse’s indiscretion to provide an upper hand when it comes to alimony. New Jersey rarely considers infidelity when determining an order for spousal support unless the adultery had some direct financial impact on the marriage.

Violating societal norms during a marriage to gain a financial advantage when that union ends can sway a court’s opinion on how much to order in alimony as well as how to divide assets from the union. An experienced New Jersey divorce attorney can help you disclose assets in the proper manner, and obtain an order for support that keeps you in the style you’ve become accustomed to in an ethical way.

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