How to Reduce or Even Eliminate Alimony

By Jennifer Williams

As the economy declines and jobs are cut across the country, many individuals who pay alimony to their former spouses are finding it harder and harder to meet their court-ordered obligations. In such cases, it may be time to seek a reduction in the amount owed, or even to eliminate the spousal support payments altogether. Most states will consider reduction or elimination of alimony based on a substantial change in the circumstances of one or both former spouses.

As the economy declines and jobs are cut across the country, many individuals who pay alimony to their former spouses are finding it harder and harder to meet their court-ordered obligations. In such cases, it may be time to seek a reduction in the amount owed, or even to eliminate the spousal support payments altogether. Most states will consider reduction or elimination of alimony based on a substantial change in the circumstances of one or both former spouses.

Procedure to Modify or Terminate Alimony

A modification or termination of alimony starts with a petition to the court that issued the original divorce decree. In addition to personal information about both former spouses, the petition must ask the court to modify the original decree by either reducing or eliminating the monthly alimony payment. The petition must also detail a substantial change in financial circumstances of either party making the modification or termination necessary. The petition must be served on the other spouse. While courts can order a reduction or elimination of alimony retroactively to the date the petition was filed, the regular amounts must be paid pending the final court order reducing or eliminating payments.

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Substantial Change in Payor's Circumstances

States are fairly uniform in what they consider a substantial change in circumstances for purposes of modifying or eliminating alimony. Generally, a substantial change includes job loss, inability to find work, reduction in pay, failing health affecting an ability to earn a living and excessive debt. A former spouse seeking reduction or elimination of alimony must prove the substantial change that justifies the modification. Attached to the motion should be copies of documents that prove the substantial change. For example, termination or lay-off papers as proof of job loss; pay stubs to prove a pay reduction; emails, letters and copies of resume submissions to prove a consistent attempt to find work; medical bills and doctor reports to prove illness or injury; and credit card statements and any creditor law suits to prove an excessive debt load.

Remarriage and Cohabitation

Remarriage of the spouse who receives spousal support usually terminates alimony altogether. However, many courts across the country have started reducing or eliminating alimony even without remarriage when the receiving spouse begins a live-in relationship. When a former spouse who is receiving alimony payments begins a live-in relationship with an individual who contributes to the household, and thus to the support of the former spouse, courts consider this a supportive relationship. They will consider the monetary support derived from this relationship when entertaining a motion by the paying spouse to reduce or eliminate alimony.

Settlement Agreements

When alimony is originally established in a marital settlement agreement, the agreement must reserve the court's jurisdiction to later modify alimony in order for the court to maintain jurisdiction. Otherwise, the settlement agreement stands as the final alimony agreement. If the settlement agreement does reserve jurisdiction to the family court for later modifications, the court is free to entertain a petition for modification at any time. It is best in these situations for the former spouses to modify the settlement agreement themselves and submit a mutually agreed-upon modification to the court. This eliminates any need for a hearing or trial on the facts proving a substantial change of circumstances and expedites the modification process.

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Can a Divorced Wife Sue for More Alimony?

References

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Alimony Laws in Tennessee

Alimony is a monetary award paid to the financially weaker spouse after a divorce. Tennessee courts can award one of several types of alimony available, based on a number of factors that generally include duration of marriage, age and mental health of the receiving spouse, and education and potential need for training for the receiving spouse. The type of alimony awarded is based on the spouses' circumstances, and the court may award more than one type of alimony, where appropriate. The law also dictates when alimony can be modified, as well as when the obligation to pay terminates.

Alimony Regulations in North Carolina

When spouses divorce, one spouse may leave the marriage financially weaker, without having the other spouse's income and assets at her disposal. North Carolina awards alimony to that spouse, in accordance with the state's legislative code. The law sets forth who is entitled to alimony, how the award amount is determined and when alimony is modifiable or when it will terminate.

What if a Spouse Refuses to Pay Alimony?

When a divorce court orders alimony, the order is made part of the original divorce decree. Even when the spouses have reached a marital settlement agreement that includes an alimony amount, that agreement is made enforceable in court when the judge signs off on it. Divorce and alimony are governed by state law, and laws vary across the country, but all states allow a spouse who is entitled to alimony but is not receiving it to return to court to enforce the original alimony order.

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