The New Jersey Appellate Division recently affirmed a lower court ruling on a post-judgment motion in which the lower court denied an obligor’s application to modify child support, where proper financial documentation was not supplied with the motion. This decision highlights some key components of the nuts and bolts of filing such post-judgment motions.
In D.L. v. W.L., a seventy-four year old payor sought a reduction in his child support obligation for his permanently disabled, fifty-year-old son. The moving party was a licensed psychologist with a solo practice, who had been paying approximately $17,000 per year in child support and 80% of unreimbursed medical expenses for his disabled adult son since 2006. This support obligation was calculated in 2006 based on the payor’s stipulated income of $150,000.
In making this application, the psychologist claimed that managed care had precipitated a permanent decline in his income from $150,000 in 2006 to $36,000 in 2014. The payor asserted that managed care reduced both the amount of money earned per session and the number of appointments each patient could attend. However, in violation of New Jersey Court rule 5:5-4(a), the payor did not supply the court with his 2006 Case Information Statement (CIS) and did not isolate his individual expenses from those of his family (including his second wife and teenage daughter). He did, however, provide his 2014 tax return.
The trial court denied his application, noting that a self-employed obligor’s income should be viewed more expansively because he is in a better position to present an unrealistic snapshot of his financial circumstances than a W-2 wage earner. Comparing his current CIS with his 2014 tax return, the trial court found some discrepancies in his stated income of $36,000 and his business and personal expenses. Critically, the trial court found that determining changed circumstances necessarily entails knowing the starting point from which to measure the change. In this case, therefore, failure to provide his 2006 CIS or at least a transcript of the 2006 proceedings proved fatal to the payor’s application. As an aside, the trial court noted that the payee was under no obligation to supply financial documentation to the court until the payor met his burden to prove a change in circumstances.
This decision highlights several important practical considerations in filing post-judgment motions. First, an applicant should supply all required documentation to the court, including all prior Case Information Statements and an accurate, updated CIS. Without these documents or at least an explanation as to why they cannot be produced, according to D.L. v. W.L., an application is all but dead on arrival. Second, self-employed obligors should take pause before filing a post-judgment application and ensure that all the required financial documentation supplied paints a consistent picture of the payor’s financial circumstances. While a W-2 may speak for itself, payors that don’t have the benefit of such black-and-white income documentation must ensure the documentation submitted with the application provides the court with enough information to make a credible and substantiated determination as to current income.