In the situations that you encounter in your family law practice, you undoubtedly use the advanced financial knowledge and skills that your CFL Designation for Divorce Practitioners provide you on a daily basis. Whether constructing complicated high-asset property settlement agreements, drafting fair and equitable spousal and/or child support payment agreements, or determining how to best serve your client’s interests when it comes to continuing or disposing of a family business, your CFL credential serves you well.

If your client is the spouse who needs spousal support, however, you may have a particularly tricky situation. For instance, why does (s)he need it? And for how long does (s)he need it? Temporarily or permanently? And how long is “temporary”? The New Hampshire Supreme Court recently visited this issue in the case of In the Matter of Steven Hoyte and Lesley Hoyt.

Marital Situation

Steven and Lesley Hoyt divorced in 2010 after an 18-year marriage that produced three children. Three years later, in 2013, Lesley filed a post-divorce petition wherein she asked for alimony for the first time. In 2014, the Circuit Court awarded her “temporary alimony for a period not to exceed 18 months…in the amount of $150 monthly,” citing Lesley’s tendonitis as the reason why she needed “some temporary assistance.”

Between 2014 and 2016, the couple’s two eldest children reached the age of 18 and the oldest child withdrew from college and moved back in with Lesley due to a medical condition. The middle child remained in college, but lived with Leslie during the summers. The youngest child also lived with Lesley and was a high school student. At this point, Steven filed for a reduction in child support and, prior to court approval, reduced the amount he paid. Leslie counter-filed, requesting $1,100 per month child support for the youngest child, plus $600 per month in alimony.

The trial court held a final hearing on all these issues in January of 2017. Leslie gave substantial testimony regarding the oldest child’s serious medical condition, the fact that she, Lesley, was paying for the middle child’s college expenses, and the fact that not only had the youngest child’s extracurricular high school expenses substantially increased due to her participation in the school’s dance team, but also that Steven had refused to pay for any of these expenses.

Steven, on the other hand, alleged that since the original alimony award was “temporary,” per New Hampshire law, Leslie could not now request its modification. The trial court rejected this argument, holding that in this case, “temporary” meant “a permanent award for a set period of time.”

Supreme Court Ruling

The Supreme Court noted that New Hampshire’s statute provides for post-divorce alimony awards in the following two situations:

  1. When the party seeks alimony for the first time after the divorce was granted
  2. When the divorce court issued “an order for permanent alimony for a definite period of time”

The Court also noted that at the time of Lesley’s post-divorce alimony award, the statute had not defined either “temporary” or “permanent.” Thus the trial court had not abused its discretion by reasoning that its post-divorce alimony award was “permanent for a set period of time” under the statute. Thus it could be renewed; i.e., modified.

Finally, the Court noted that “permanent alimony is an award made in conjunction with the determination of the merits of the action,” and while it need not mean that the alimony should continue in perpetuity, it does mean that “the trial court retains discretion to set a durational limit to the award based on the facts of the particular case.” Consequently, it affirmed the trial court’s modified award as a “renewal of an expired order.”

For more information on how gaining your CFL Designation for Divorce Practitioners gives you the financial knowledge and skills you need to attract additional high-asset clients, plus other benefits of AACFL membership, please visit this page of our website.