After your divorce is over and the final Judgment of Divorce is signed, there may still be issues that bind you and your ex-spouse together. Alimony is one of those lingering issues which may require you to have contact with your ex-spouse for years to come. It is often possible to have an alimony award modified or, in some cases, completely eliminated. The relevant issue is whether there has been a “change of circumstances” that warrants a change. The person who wants to modify the alimony is the one who must prove that circumstances have changed. “Change of circumstances” is a legal term. Courts have considered many different grounds as adequate change, including a substantial change in the cost of living, increase or decrease in the income of the paying spouse, or the party receiving paymentstarting to cohabitate with another person. It is important to note that in the case of cohabitation by the supported spouse, the new living arrangement must be one that is equivalent to marriage; that is, simply obtaining a roommate is insufficient to eliminate an alimony obligation. Other issues can also come into play, such as the refusal to find employment, retirement, or receipt of a large gift or inheritance.
Remarriage can also affect an obligation to pay alimony. If the paying spouse remarries, the obligation does not terminate. In fact, remarriage alone of the paying spouse is likely not sufficient to prove a change of circumstances. However, if the spouse receiving alimony remarries, this will eliminate the paying spouse’s obligation. Even if the spouse’s second marriage fails, that spouse cannot later seek to reinstate the alimony order from the first marriage.
In 2014, a new law was passed that changed the way alimony can be set and how long it can last. One of the changes in this law is that it is now possible for a spouse who has reached the retirement age to request alimony payments be stopped. The end result is that it is no longer possible for a spouse to be awarded truly permanent alimony. Reaching retirement age, in and of itself, is now considered a change in circumstances sufficiently adequate to ask a court to stop alimony payments.
Once you have proven to the court that there has been a change of circumstances, only then will the court allow the parties to proceed with discovery, and the parties will exchange documents such as tax returns or other proof of income. The court will ultimately have a Trial, and using the same factors (such as need an ability to pay) that it did for the initial alimony award, it will decide if modification is appropriate in your case.
Modification and timing of alimony modification is a fact-specific situation. We would value the opportunity to review your case with you and discuss whether the timing is right to seek to change your alimony.