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What Happens when Circumstances Change After the Divorce?

The judge has signed the final divorce decree.  It’s been a battle, but it’s time to move on.  Then something changes or is revealed that represents a change in circumstances.  Are you stuck with the original decision?  Or, is there something that can be done?

Fortunately, there is an avenue to pursue reprieve for changes in circumstances.  Formally, it is known as an application for post judgment relief.  Here are some examples where some may seek post-divorce modifications:

  • Relocation of a parent in a custody matter
  • Alimony modifications due to cohabitation of the party receiving payments
  • Changes in income affecting alimony or child support payments
  • Requests for alterations to parenting or visitation schedules
  • Discovery of new assets subject to equitable distribution

Post-Divorce Bonus at Issue in Case Heard before Supreme Court

As family law attorneys, we recognize the importance of keeping clients up to date on current trends in the law.  We are therefore pleased to provide the background on a case featured in a recent news article regarding a post-divorce motion.

It is well-established that compensation bonuses are considered marital assets.  Thus, they are subject to equitable distribution.  Among the factors reviewed by the court are whether the bonus was received prior to the marriage, during it, or after the conclusion of the divorce hearing. Consider the following facts presented to the Supreme Court for consideration.

You can read the findings of the Appellate Court’s decision here.  According to the facts of the case, the couple were married for just fourteen months when Michael J. Thieme filed for divorce. At the time of the divorce, Michael and Bernice F. Aucoin-Thieme entered into a comprehensive settlement agreement that addressed their issues.

Michael was employed in the technology field.  He was dissatisfied with his first job and moved on to work for a start-up company.  Although he agreed to lower earnings with the subsequent employer, he was able to negotiate a “Statement of Understanding” with them. This recognized Michael’s extraordinary contributions to the company, including the long hours he put in on a daily basis.  The agreement set forth financial considerations if the start-up was sold. 

The timeline is of some importance.  Michael and Bernice met in 2000, a year after Michael started employment with the lower paying job.  They moved in together in 2002, when Bernice became pregnant.  That was the same year the agreement was signed.  In 2003, their daughter was born.  They did not get married until 2010.

There seems to be a history of a stormy relationship.  Michael filed for divorce on November 29, 2011.  The couple signed a Property Settlement Agreement the following June and were granted a divorce.

Three months after the divorce, Michael’s company awarded him a bonus of $2.25 million dollars when the company was sold.  Michael deposited $200,000 in his bank account.  He did not realize that Bernice still had access to the account.  He learned that when Bernice withdrew the money.  He subsequently filed a lawsuit seeking return of the money.

The matter ultimately came back to Family Court.  The issue before the court was whether Bernice was in fact due a portion of Michael’s bonus.  The judge applied a formula to determine the appropriate share that should have been apportioned to Bernice.  This was done by dividing the bonus by the number of months Michael worked for the start up.  That amount was then multiplied by the number of months the couple were married.  The sum was then used in consideration of equitable distribution. 

Bernice was not pleased with the portion of money afforded to her and appealed.  The Appellate Division agreed that the deferred compensation had been appropriately divided.  It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court agrees with the two lower courts.

Contact Us

If you believe that a change of circumstances should be reviewed by the court, the Law Offices of Sam Stoia would like to assist you.  Contact us to set up an appointment at no charge.

What Happens when Circumstances Change After the Divorce?

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