When a marriage ends, it's not unusual for one spouse to pay alimony (also called "spousal support" or "maintenance") to the other after the divorce. The marital settlement agreement and/or the court's divorce judgment will contain an order that defines the terms of the alimony payments, like how much will be paid each month and when the payments are due. Some orders also say when alimony ends--this might be a specific date or be connected to an event, like the remarriage of the spouse receiving alimony.
The order may also describe circumstances under which alimony can be modified (changed) - for example, if the paying spouse becomes unemployed. Some agreements and orders may state that the amount of alimony can't be changed under any circumstances.
You will Need to Show a Change In Circumstances
If the settlement agreement or order doesn't address the issue of when alimony can be modified, then either spouse is free to seek a change to alimony by filing a request with the court. For example, a paying spouse who can no longer afford alimony must ask the court to make a change, and must prove why the reduction is justified. In order to convince the court to reduce (or even terminate) alimony, the paying spouse must demonstrate a significant change in the financial circumstances of one or both spouses, such as:
- the involuntary loss of a job or wage reduction
- an illness or disability that prevents the paying spouse from working
- the remarriage of the supported spouse
- the supported spouse's cohabitation with a new partner, or
- and increase in former spouse’s income.
The change in circumstances must be significant though - the judge won't grant a reduction based on a minor adjustment to either spouse's income or other financial resources.
Once a motion to modify alimony has been filed, the court will typically allow the spouses to conduct "discovery," meaning each will be entitled to ask the other to produce financial documentation showing the ability to pay support and/or the need for financial support, such as paystubs, tax returns, and financial statements.
Modifying alimony can be complicated; discovery and trial court procedures generally require legal expertise. If you have questions about changing alimony, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help.