Although you may have been flush with cash when your original alimony obligation was established -- either by mutual agreement or by court order -- the vagaries of a changing economy may make your current financial picture look entirely different. Fortunately, you may be able to obtain an alimony reduction under certain circumstances. Depending on the facts of your case and the cooperative disposition of the other side, you may be able to do it without appearing in court.
Alimony Law In General
Alimony, or spousal support, is governed by the laws of individual states, so the specifics vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In general, however, the amount of alimony is based upon an analysis of the other side's needs and your ability to pay. An alimony order can be permanent or temporary, expiring after a stated period of time to give a former spouse a chance to get on her feet after a marital breakup. Typically, substantially changed circumstances affecting either the receiving spouse's need or the paying spouse's ability to pay can justify modification of an alimony obligation.
Alimony Set By Contract
Depending on your state, you may not be able to reduce your original amount of alimony if it was set out in a marital settlement agreement, which typically states how much alimony you have to pay and when, if ever, it will end. Many states will not permit official modification of the terms of alimony in marital settlement agreements if the agreement contains no statement providing for such modification. In those cases, you'll need to obtain the receiving spouse's agreement to reduce payments.
Reducing Alimony Through Court
If you've experienced changed circumstances, such as the loss of a job or reduction in wages, you can file a motion in court to reduce your alimony. You can also cite changed circumstances on the other side, such as remarriage or cohabitation, completion of education or an increase in income. You need to state with particularity the changed circumstances you're citing, and you must serve the other side after filing your motion with your local court clerk. At the hearing, the burden of proof rests on you to prove changed circumstances and how they affect either your ability to pay alimony or the other side's need to receive it.
If both parties agree -- or if your local rules require it -- you may participate in a mediation process in an effort to settle the issue of reduced alimony without the expense and uncertainty of a court hearing. The modification to your alimony obligation should be in writing to guard against future accusations of insufficient payment. If your obligation was originally set by a court order, the judge will have to sign the new agreement.