Retirement, Social Security, and Medicare

Nothing will shake up a person’s life financially in the same way that a divorce will. Parties have worked for many years to construct a stable financial future for their retirement, and divorce often means dividing all of those resources in half. It could also mean that one party will be paying spousal support on a short or long-term basis. When those spousal support payments coincide with retirement, the paying spouse may often request a reduction or elimination of his or her spousal support. In 2014, the New Jersey legislature made sweeping changes to the spousal support provisions in New Jersey. One provision included in the changes is N.J.S.A. 2A34-23. In the case of Brown v. Brown, the court was called upon to discuss the interaction of this statute, Social Security, and Medicare benefits in a post-divorce context.

In this case, the parties were married for eleven years, divorcing in 2003. A superseding divorce order was entered in 2006, wherein the plaintiff husband agreed to pay $1,750 per month to the defendant wife as permanent alimony. This amount took into account that the parties agreed both of them were permanently disabled, as well as the fact that the husband’s income was from Social Security and Veteran’s Disability and the wife’s income was from Social Security. After the entry of the divorce decree, the husband filed repetitive motions requesting the reduction of his spousal support obligation. Eventually in 2009, the court partially granted the husband’s request, reducing his alimony obligation to $1,250 a month. This was because the wife had become eligible for Medicare, and so no longer relied on the spousal support income to pay for her medical insurance. The husband appealed this decision. He alleged that his Social Security income and Veteran’s Benefits income should not have been considered “income” for purposes of calculating his spousal support. The appellate court disagreed with this contention. The wife was also ordered to apply to receive extra Social Security benefits under the husband’s income. Thereafter, the husband once again filed repetitive motions for reduction of his support, all of which were denied. Eventually in 2014, the husband filed again, citing to N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23 for the proposition that the new law made a presumption that his alimony obligation should terminate now that he was of retirement age. The appellate court again disagreed with the husband. The court acknowledged that one provision of the new law provided for such a presumption, but held that this law did not apply retroactively. Instead, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(j)(3) allows for termination of spousal support in cases where the order already existed at the time the 2014 changes were enacted only in particular circumstances. The court held that in this case, there were extraordinary circumstances meriting continuation of spousal support, including the fact that both parties had previously agreed that they were both permanently disabled.

Spousal support can be a complicated area, and you need an experienced attorney to help you. If you have questions about your spousal support issues in your divorce, contact us today at (732) 529-6937 for an appointment.

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