Family Law

Can Alimony Payments Be Changed

Alimony is money paid by one spouse to the other after a divorce. Today, it is often referred to as “spousal support.” In most states, permanent spousal support is usually awarded only when one spouse has been economically dependent on the other spouse for most of a long marriage.

Alimony laws in most states still allow for permanent awards, though former spouses can generally seek to modify the terms in court. In 2011, Massachusetts eliminated permanent alimony arrangements, and Florida passed a similar law in 2013. Comparable bills to eliminate permanent alimony are pending in New Jersey, Connecticut, Colorado and Oregon.

Other kinds of alimony include:

Durational support, which has a predetermined ending date, often set at one-half the duration of the marriage. The amount might be modified, but not the duration.

Rehabilitative alimony, which has a set term and is intended to help a dependent spouse complete the training or education needed to become self-supporting. It is modifiable.

Reimbursement alimony, which requires one spouse to pay the other back for any financial contributions related to higher education or advanced job training. Under ordinary circumstances, it is not modifiable.

When You Can Seek Modification

Spousal support agreements are part of a divorce decree and become legally binding the moment the judge grants the divorce petition. The rules that govern modification of these payments vary from state to state. This process requires a court order, usually in the jurisdiction where the divorce was granted.

Generally, the amount of alimony can be changed only if you can prove that the circumstances that shaped the determination of spousal support in the first place have changed substantially. Either party can initiate modification or termination of the award. The party initiating the change must act in good faith, not simply to punish the other party.

Alimony Can Be Increased

The amount of alimony being paid can be increased if the recipient can prove that the payer is now earning more money and the recipient is in need of that money. Also, a recipient can seek to have alimony payments increased due to disability that prevents work, due to job loss or due to an increase in the cost of living. These changes can be temporary or permanent.

Alimony Can Be Reduced If

The receiver has significantly increased his or her ability to self-support.

The cost of living has significantly decreased.

The payer can demonstrate difficulty with self-support. This might happen if the payer remarries and has more (biological) children to support or if the payer retires and is earning less.

The payer suffers a temporary hardship due to illness, disability, job loss or financial emergency.

In this case, payments are generally modified for a specific, predetermined period.

The recipient is cohabiting, long-term, with another person.

Alimony Can Be Terminated If

Durational, rehabilitative or reimbursement obligations have been met.

The receiver has significantly increased his or her ability to self-support.

The recipient remarries or long-term cohabits.

Either party dies.

In some states, when the payer retires.

Call a Divorce Lawyer

The law surrounding modification of a court-ordered spousal support agreement can be complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information about your case, contact a divorce lawyer.

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