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Can I recover past alimony payments if I discover that the income during divorce was grossly understated...3 times less?

Bellevue, WA |

At the time of divorce, two years ago, my ex stated she was earning $2000/mo but the arbitrator adjusted it to $3000/mo in the final child support (CS) order. Two years later after the statutory limit passed and I requested an adjustment to my CS, I got her financials and learnt she made $10000/mo that first year after the divorce was filed. She was making more money then me starting the first year, but I had to wait two year to file for adjustment, so had not idea. The alimony amount over that period is approx. $42,000. In the meantime the alimony payment created financial hardship. I defaulted on my mortage (my take home pay was not enough to even cover the mortgage payment). Is my case valid? Can I sue (outside of family court) to recover alimony payments? She's the custodial p

Attorney Answers 2


You'd have to file a motion to vacate per Civil Rule 60(b). In the first year after an order there are several ways to get it vacated, inculding excusable neglect. After that, you have to basically prove fraud. Your facts may do it, but these cases are tough to prove. It’s always best to consult with a good family law attorney to discuss the details before you act. See my AVVO Legal Guides on vacating final orders for more information about the legal issues raised by your inquiry. Click on my photo. On my AVVO home page click on "View Contributions" or scroll down further and click on "Legal Guides." Scroll down the list of my 29 Legal Guides and select the topics relevant to your question. If you like my answer and Legal Guides, please make sure you mark them as “helpful.”

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What matters is what was her income at the time the decree was entered, not what was her income after that. If in fact her income went up ( as opposed to her hiding income before decree entered) after decree entered, you had the right to seek modification of the alimony. An exception to this would be if you agreed to non-modifiable alimony. If the decree section regarding alimony ( spousal maintenance) does not say non-modifiable, then it is modifiable. I assume we are talking about a WA decree. Here is the statute regarding modification of maintenance :

§ 26.09.170. Modification of decree for maintenance or support, property disposition - Termination of maintenance obligation and child support - Grounds

(1) Except as otherwise provided in RCW 26.09.070(7), the provisions of any decree respecting maintenance or support may be modified: (a) Only as to installments accruing subsequent to the petition for modification or motion for adjustment except motions to compel court-ordered adjustments, which shall be effective as of the first date specified in the decree for implementing the adjustment; and, (b) except as otherwise provided in this section, only upon a showing of a substantial change of circumstances. The provisions as to property disposition may not be revoked or modified, unless the court finds the existence of conditions that justify the reopening of a judgment under the laws of this state.

So if she didn't lie about her income at the time of the decree, you can't go back and get some alimony money back now, but if you are still paying alimony and you didn't agree to it being non-modifiable, you either amend your support modification petition to include modification of the maintenance, or you file a separate modification petition regarding the maintenance. But maintenance is "income" for child support purposes, so child support should change when ever maintenance changes , so the modification of maintenance should be part of a support modification.

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