When drafting an alimony agreement, it is essential that you have an experienced Morris County family law attorney to help you draft the agreement. In the recent case of Sercia v Sercia, the wife agreed to an alimony settlement which she thought would allow her to receive a part of her husband’s yearly bonus. However, due to the wording of the alimony agreement, she received no portion of the bonus. Having an experienced Morristown alimony lawyer who is familiar with the drafting of such agreements and can avoid these kinds of mistakes is clearly of extreme benefit to you.
Before we look at the specifics of the case, let’s take a quick look at alimony laws and calculations.
How is Alimony Calculated in New Jersey?
There are a number of different ways to draft an alimony agreement. Alimony is not only calculated using base wages; fees, tips, commissions, bonuses, royalties, overtime, interest, dividends, disability, and Social Security are all taken into account when determining alimony.
In addition to the different sources of income to consider when drafting an alimony agreement, the parties also have to consider what type of payments they want to make (or receive). Specifically, parties can choose to pay (or receive) an average of the yearly bonuses earned by the payor, or the parties can agree to a percentage of each yearly bonus.
Some couples prefer to use the average method, as it creates for a more stable and expected payment schedule. The average is considered to be the average of the previous 3 years bonuses. Conversely, couples may favor paying a percentage of each years bonus, mitigating payments in slower years, or receiving greater payments in years where the payor and his/her company does particularly well.
What a Morris County Spousal Support Attorney Can Do for You
In the specific case of Sercia v Sercia, the parties agreed to a base alimony payment and a percentage of the husband’s yearly bonus as supplemental alimony. However, as previously noted, the agreement was drafted quite poorly from the wife’s standpoint, and as a result, the husband was not required to pay her the supplemental bonus portion of their agreement.
The agreement was written as follows: “The parties have agreed that [Plaintiff] shall pay to [Defendant] one-third of the net cash bonus earned each year. [Defendant] shall only be entitled to said share when [Plaintiff]’s bonus totals one-hundred thousand-dollars, i.e., it is the parties’ intent that [Defendant]’s total alimony package shall be capped at [Plaintiff] earning a $125,000 base salary plus up to $100,00 bonus. The parties agree that [Defendant]’s share shall be one-third unallocated on the first $100,00 cash base, the net amount being [taxed at Plaintiff]’s regular tax bracket…”
The following year, the husband earned a $53,221 bonus, and the wife filed for enforcement of their alimony agreement to receive her portion of the bonus. To her surprise however, the lower court denied the motion, finding that her husband’s bonus had not totaled $100,000. The wife then appealed, but the Appellate Division agreed with the lower court. They found that the marital agreement was very specific, stating that the above agreement was clear, the wife was only entitled to supplemental alimony when the husband’s bonus was $100,000 or more.
While the agreement can be read to mean the wife was entitled to one-third of the first $100,000 earned in bonuses by the husband, the poor drafting of this alimony agreement cannot be disputed. This is a great example of why having a knowledgeable and experienced Morristown alimony attorney is of extreme importance. The smallest of errors in drafting any kind of divorce settlement like distribution of assets, child custody, and child support can lead to large portions of money being lost, and can have unintended consequences on your life.
Contact a Morristown, NJ Alimony Lawyer Today
At the law offices of Townsend, Tomaio & Newmark, we are uniquely suited to helping you with any divorce-related issue, including alimony settlements. This is because our firm practices exclusively family law. Being able to focus on only one practice area lets our attorneys stay current on all family law issues, and means they have the experience and legal understanding necessary to protecting your future.