Divorce attorneys report an increase in clients seeking to modify their alimony. In a tough economy, clients try to make ends meet by changing the amount of alimony they pay out or receive.
You might want to modify your alimony if you face hard financial times of your own. The following shows situations in which a change in alimony might be allowed.
Types of Alimony
Your ability to have alimony changed depends on what type of alimony was awarded in the first place. In some states, alimony is called spousal maintenance or spousal support. There are four basic kinds of alimony:
Temporary alimony. This is meant to provide support during the divorce action. It may include the payment of attorney fees and other litigation costs. This award is for a short duration anyway, so it's not easy to change. But in some states, temporary alimony can be ended if the receiving spouse remarries
Rehabilitative alimony. This is given to help a dependent spouse become self-supporting. It might last long enough for the spouse to get a job, learn a new job skill, or complete their education. It's possible to change this alimony if the needs of the receiving spouse change. For example, payments could end when the spouse finds a job or be extended if the spouse can't find work. Also, courts can cut off this alimony if the receiving spouse fails to make a good-faith effort to become self-supporting
Reimbursement alimony. This is to pay a spouse back for contributions to the marriage. For example, if one spouse worked to support the family while the other spouse attended law school, alimony could allow the first spouse to share the other spouse's law practice earnings. This alimony might be increased if the paying spouse's earnings increase due to efforts or sacrifices made by the receiving spouse during their marriage. On the other hand, a court might order this alimony to end or decrease once the receiving spouse is sufficiently compensated
Permanent alimony. Two main goals of permanent alimony are support and fairness. Alimony is meant to support the receiving spouse according to the needs and earning abilities of the parties. It's also intended to fairly compensate the spouse for contributions made to the marriage. This alimony can typically be modified if there's a big change in the needs, earning abilities, or other circumstances of the parties
Sometimes a spouse receives payments after a divorce to compensate them for their ownership in marital property. This isn't really alimony. It's part of the distribution of marital property. For example, one spouse might receive payments from the other spouse's work retirement benefits because the benefits were marital property earned during the marriage.
Generally, awards that are a distribution of marital property can't be modified. And that is so regardless of how the parties label it in their divorce. Even if you call it "maintenance," payments probably can't be changed if they are for the ex-spouse's property rights.