Alimony/child support bill advances

TRENTON – The Assembly Judiciary released unanimously a bill that would allow for a change in child support or alimony payments due to economic circumstances.

A685, sponsored by Sean Kean, (R-30), Wall Township would amend the law to provide that payments may be modified when the person’s income is diminished  due to unemployment, temporary disability or other similar circumstance.

Kean said that the state’s alimony rules are antiquated and overdue for a re-examination.

Chairman Peter Barnes, (D-18), Edison said this is a situation that has drawn renewed attention in light of the bad economy, affecting everyone from Wall Street traders to working-class trades people such as electricians and carpenters.

“A lot of the jobs people had five years ago, they’re not coming back,’’ he said. “We’re not going to see the level of income that we saw.’’

Andrea White and Tom Snyder of the N.J. Bar Association urged removal of language that sets a six-month minimum period before action could be taken; they and others said judges need discretion.

And Kean said he would confer with them and with the Administrative Office of the Courts to resolve concerns over bill wording.

Committee member Michael Patrick Carroll, (R-25), Morris Plains called this bill a step in the right direction, and said one of his concerns with current law is that before a change is made in payments a judge is required to find that changes in circumstances are essentially permanent.

And Kean told the committee that what he is hearing is that someone loses a six-figure job, goes into court to adjust payments, but the courts are not granting the request.

John Waldorf, a civil engineer who said he lost his job through a downsizing in 2009, told the panel about problems he had as a result of the state’s alimony and child support system.

He said  that he spent 10 days in jail because he had been found to be $40,000 in arrears, unable to make $6,100 a month in payments, and after he had spent about $60,000 on attorney’s fees in divorce proceedings. He told the panel he had paid $325,000 over four and a half years to his ex-wife.

He said a judge ordered him to cash in his son’s college account, and he also cashed in a 401K. “I had to borrow money from my mother to get out of jail,” he said.

“Judges should be fair,’’ he said, adding that his relationships with family, friends and future employers are affected by these problems.

Committee member John McKeon, (D-27), South Orange, while sympathizing with the stories Waldorf and other witnesses told, said that he is equally familiar with the other side of the issue, with “people who are not  getting their money.’’

Carroll said that there are court remedies for people who can pay but don’t, and this legislation is designed to help those who truly can’t make payments.

The committee also released A2105, sponsored by Craig Coughlin, (D-19), Woodbridge, which passed unanimously.

This bill clarifies that a person is guilty of a crime if that person engages in criminal impersonation or  identity theft involving the use of any electronic communications or  internet websites. These acts include but are not limited to  impersonating another or assuming a false identity.