Modifying divorce settlements in New Jersey

When divorced spouses in New Jersey wish to modify the terms of their divorce settlements, their attorneys file what is known as a Lepis motion. This kind of legal motion is named after the divorce case Lepis v. Lepis, which was heard by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1980. In that case, the justices ruled that matters including support and alimony could be revisited and revised when circumstances changed for the spouse seeking a modification.

When weighing the merits of a Lepis motion, family law judges in New Jersey compare the current standard of living of the spouse making the motion with the standard of living they enjoyed when they were married. Factors they take into consideration include the property and incomes of both spouses, the needs of the dependent spouse and any children involved, and the efforts that the divorced spouse is making to support themselves.

In order to prevail in court, the spouse making the Lepis motion must establish that the change in circumstances has substantially hampered their ability to enjoy a standard of living that is reasonably comparable to their married standard of living. They must also demonstrate that the change is ongoing. When judges conclude that a change in circumstances is only temporary or is expected but has not yet occurred, Lepis motions are likely to be denied.

Family law attorneys with divorce modification experience may suggest filing a Lepis motion when dependent spouses are struggling financially due to illness, unemployment or some other setback. They might also file Lepis motions on behalf of spouses who pay support when the spouse receiving the payments accepts a job with substantially higher pay or the children involved require less support due to employment or emancipation. Attorneys may advise against filing a Lepis motion when the divorce settlement included an upfront payment to account for rising needs.

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