Spousal support or alimony is not an aspect of every divorce, but for those in which it does appear, this money makes a significant difference to the standard of living of the recipient. Unlike child support, alimony is not an absolute right a spouse can demand, and courts evaluate a number of factors when deciding whether alimony is appropriate. Of course, alimony awards are based upon the financial conditions and circumstances of each spouse at the time of the divorce. Problems can arise if unanticipated changes, a practical guarantee for everyone, occurs, which alters the ability of a party to pay, or the need for continued support by the recipient. While the former spouses are free to privately agree to a modification of alimony, this issue, being so contentious, often requires the intervention of a court to settle.
However, modifying a court order is not an easy matter. Unless the order has a pre-established expiration date, it is meant to continue, and courts are reluctant to alter a standing order unless presented with a compelling reason. Consequently, when a party seeks to modify alimony, evidence will need to be presented to justify the change, and merely stating a modification is necessary will not be enough. Both sides have a lot at stake in these situations, and a discussion of when alimony is modifiable, as well as the information courts typically evaluate, will follow below.
When Is Alimony Modifiable?
While one party to an alimony order might want to modify the terms, depending upon how the alimony was structured, the modification is not always available. Thus, before delving into how courts look at these petitions, it is important to note under what circumstances an alimony order may not be changed. There are three main issues that can prevent the modification of alimony:
- The divorce decree states the order is not modifiable;
- Alimony was ordered to be paid as a lump sum; or
- Alimony was structured to be paid-in-kind, i.e., with tangible property, as opposed to money.
Court Evaluation of Modification
Assuming one of these limitations do not apply, either spouse may petition for a change, but only once every two years. Thus, if less than two years have passed since the last the petition or the issuance of the order, a court cannot consider a request. When a valid petition is filed, the court will be looking at the following preliminary facts:
- An order for permanent alimony was previously issued;
- The alimony is payable as a periodic installment, i.e., weekly, monthly, etc.;
- A change for one or both parties occurred; and
- The change happened between the time the initial order or last modification was issued and the filing of the current petition.
The law permits the modification of alimony orders in two situations:
- A significant change in income and financial status of the obligated spouse; or
- The recipient spouse is in a romantic relationship with a live-in partner.
To succeed on the basis of a change in income, the payor spouse will need evidence of the following circumstances:
- Substantial changes in net income, usually related to a job loss or involuntary reduction in salary; or
- An expected and notable increase in expenses or debt obligations.
Note that a change in income/expenses for either spouse may justify a modification, but the most common scenario is the payor asking for a reduction because meeting this financial obligation has become a struggle.
For the second situation involving the romantic relationship, in addition to proving the couple lives together, the other key aspect of this basis for modification is proving they are, in fact, romantic partners. Living together as roommates are not enough to trigger this provision, and evidence of a continuous sexual relationship must be established.
Contact a LaGrange Family Law Attorney
Alimony is one of those issues that will never be easy to address, but when issues do arise, having the advice of an experienced LaGrange family law attorney can make all the difference in getting the outcome you want. Moffitt Law, LLC understand the stakes in alimony disputes for both sides and have the experience to obtain the best possible result. Contact the LaGrange family law attorneys at (762) 212-3846 for a free consultation.
Tyler Moffitt is a Family Law and Criminal Defense Attorney who practices Carrollton, LaGrange, and Columbus, GA. He graduated from John Marshall Law School, and has been practicing for several years now. Tyler Moffitt takes great honor in defending the accused. Learn more about his experience by clicking here.