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What happens when a spouse moves the goalposts after divorce?

There is a saying that the best laid plans often go awry. While this may be true in many instances, some New Jersey residents will be familiar with occasions when it appears that a former spouse is simply changing the terms of a divorce agreement to suit his or her own needs. For one woman, her ex-husband's decision to renege 26 years later on an agreement to pay life insurance policies following their divorce raised more questions than were first expected.

At the time of their divorce, the husband had two life insurance policies, with his wife named as the beneficiary. As part of the terms of the divorce, it was agreed that the policies be maintained by him for life and that the beneficiaries be their two children. When he retired, he contacted their children to advise them that he could no longer maintain the payments on the policies, and that they would have to take over the payments. The sum assured was $25,000 per child, and the monthly payments were in the region of $200 to $300 per month per person. He had also by this time remarried and had another adult son with his second wife.

He later told his second wife and their son that he had life a life insurance policy naming each of them as beneficiaries. It was not clear whether it was a single policy with two beneficiaries, and the sums involved were unknown. The monthly premiums on the original policies seemed excessive for the amount insured, and his request was in contradiction of the divorce agreement. It was unreasonable, to say the least, to expect the children from his first marriage to take on payments that were his responsibility.

When a New Jersey resident finds himself or herself in a similar situation, it may depend on the sums involved as to whether one considers it a matter worth pursuing further; however, one may feel that it is a point of principle. If the case is taken to court, and a judge upholds the divorce agreement and rules that the payments must be maintained by the parent, the parent could be found in contempt of court if he or she then fails to comply with the order. Seeking the appropriate advice will be necessary in order to make an informed decision.

Source:, "Who wins under the law -- a beneficiary on a life insurance policy or on a divorce decree?", Quentin Fottrell, June 2, 2017

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