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Changing the Terms of a New Jersey Divorce

In a New Jersey family law court, you may hear the term "Lepis," or "Lepis motion" mentioned by judges or lawyers. But what does "Lepis" mean?

Lepis is actually a reference to a 1980 family law case, Lepis v. Lepis, decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court. In that case, the court concluded that, in family law cases, courts have the power to not only establish alimony, support and related orders, but also have the power to revise such orders when circumstances require. Family court orders reflect the present obligations of the parties, but such obligations are always subject to review by the court and modification if a party can show "changed circumstances."

What Constitutes "Changed Circumstances?"

In determining whether circumstances have changed, the court looks first to the quality of economic life during the marriage, and whether the former marital standard of living is being maintained. Some of the factors utilized in this analysis include: the needs of the dependent spouse and children, the physical condition and social position of the parties, the supporting spouse's property and income, the separate property and income of the dependent spouse, and the efforts of the dependent spouse to support himself or herself.

The party requesting a modification to an alimony or support order under Lepis has the burden of showing that changed circumstances have substantially impaired the ability to support himself or herself at a standard of living that is "reasonably comparable" to the standard of living maintained during the marriage. The requesting party must also show that the change is continuing.

Importantly, however, if the original divorce judgment accounted for changed circumstances, such as a large payment at the time of the divorce to account for increasing needs over time, then a modification request may be denied. Courts have also rejected modification requests when the circumstances are only temporary or when they are expected, but have not yet occurred.

Once a court determines that a dependent spouse can't maintain the original standard of living due to a changed circumstance that was not accounted for in the original divorce judgment, then the court determines whether the supporting spouse has the ability to pay the requested modification. The supporting spouse's financial status doesn't become a factor until the dependent spouse demonstrates changed circumstances.

Examples of where changed circumstances were found to exist include:

  • An increased cost of living
  • Increase or decrease in the supporting spouse's income
  • Illness or disability arising after the original judgment
  • The dependent spouse's loss of their house or apartment
  • The dependent spouse's cohabitation with another person
  • Subsequent employment by the dependent spouse
  • Changes in federal income tax law
  • An increase in children's needs
  • The emancipation and employment of children

Will There Be a Hearing?

The Lepis case instructed that not all modification requests will require a hearing. A hearing is warranted only if the documents submitted by the parties demonstrate a disputed material fact.

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- contact a New Jersey divorce attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

More Information

For general issues arising in divorce cases, see FindLaw's section on divorce. Additional resources related to New Jersey law, and the divorce process, are listed below. If you’re thinking about filing for divorce, or are already currently involved in divorce proceedings, you may want to consult with an experienced divorce attorney to ensure your best interests are protected.

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