As your divorce concludes, by agreement or a judge’s ruling, the issues of child support and alimony, if present in your case, will be decided. However, it does not necessarily end there. Those support issues were decided based upon the then-existing financial circumstances. These financial circumstances are always subject to change. If the change is substantial enough, it may form the grounds for a modification of these financial obligations. The examples are endless. The party paying support may lose their job or suffer a cut in pay. A serious health issue may arise. The party receiving the support may finish college and get a job, which changes their income level and support needs. Someone may inherit money or even win the lottery.
As it pertains to child support, if either party requests a modification, the court determines their present income and applies the same formula used to determine their initial support obligation and then determines how that amount should be changed, if at all.
Alimony is a bit different. Sometimes a recipient of alimony will form a new relationship, but purposely choose not to re-marry because doing so generally cuts off the right to receive future alimony. Instead, that spouse will simply live together with their new significant other. Our laws provide that under such circumstances, when the alimony recipient is living in a “supportive relationship" the dollar value of the support received (payment of rent, utilities, etc.) should be considered by the judge to determine if alimony should be reduced or even terminated. Complete termination is very significant because, if totally eliminated, alimony can never be restored. If simply modified downward, and later, the support from the significant other is withdrawn (for example, if the relationship ends) the alimony can be modified upward.
Another difference between modification of alimony, as opposed to modification of child support, is that the parties can agree to never allow for the modification of alimony, while child support is always subject to modification. Sometimes, as a way to settle a case, the party paying alimony will agree to an amount that he or she thinks is too high, but in return, will only agree to pay that amount for a certain duration of time, not being subject to modification. Care must be taken by both parties when making such an agreement. If the party paying suffers financial hardship and can no longer pay, the court will not relieve that party of the obligation to pay, and the remedies available for the enforcement of a support order can be used by the court. On the other hand, if the receiving party agreed to alimony for only a certain time in the hopes of becoming self-supporting by the end of that time but that does not occur, the alimony will still terminate as scheduled and cannot be extended or modified.
Modification actions can be quite significant and sometimes more contested than the original divorce. The effects of an adverse decision in a modification can be life changing. You should retain an experienced family law attorney, who is an expert in this field and can provide you with vigorous representation.