Beck v. Beck, 239, NJ Super. 183 (1990), is another helpful case to litigants seeking to modify support obligations for change in circumstances under Lepis.
In this post-judgment case, the payor Husband filed a motion to terminate alimony due under Lepis. Husband claimed several factors contributed to his change of circumstances: his declining income as a commercial photographer whose business had dramatically declined over several years, his support obligation had increased significantly since a prior court order mandated that he pay for the children’s college, and that the Wife’s income had increased. The Wife disputed these facts.
The trial court issued a written decision finding that the Husband had not made a prima facie case to warrant a termination or modification of alimony but did not issue an order memorializing same. Three months later, when Wife made a motion for enforcement, Husband cross-moved to once again reduce his obligation. Wife argued that Husband was out of time to file a motion for reconsideration or an appeal, and his cross-motion was an attempt to relitigate the issue. The Appellate Court disagreed, citing the well-known principal that appeals can only be taken from orders, not opinions.
The Appellate Division also disagreed with the merits of the trial court’s decision, finding that Husband had made a prima facie showing by showing that his income had declined significantly in tandem with his increasing child-related expenses and Wife’s increase in income. Significantly, the Court found that the passage of time between the Fall of one year to the Spring of the next (approximately six months) was enough to renew Husband’s application even if an order had been properly entered.
Motions under Lepis are extremely fact specific but Beck provides a helpful measuring stick to those litigants seeking to demonstrate a change in circumstances which have previously, even if recently, been denied.