- Changing the spousal support amount
- Unable to change the spousal support amount
- Remarriage impact on spousal support
- How to file alimony changes
Years ago, divorce almost always meant endless alimony paid by the husband to the wife. A lot has changed. Now, it's common for courts to limit spousal support payments to just a few years. And more and more women are paying spousal support to their former husbands.
When you signed divorce papers, the amount you paid in alimony may have seemed reasonable. But what happens when your life or circumstances change?
Marriages and divorces are mainly regulated by state laws, not the federal government. As a result, the spousal support rules can vary from one place to another. But in general, people can modify their payment amounts after divorce if they meet very stringent requirements.
When can you change your spousal support amount?
Divorcing couples can fight over almost anything, and a contested breakup can take a long time to wrangle. Most states want court orders to stand, and they set limits on reassessments. But judges understand that your life can change, and when it does, the spousal support amount can shift, too.
Typically, the person paying alimony can apply for changes. Their circumstances make supporting the other party hard, and they ask for relief. These are common situations people cite:
If you're paying your spouse and lose your job, you may need to halt spousal support payments. Getting another job can take time, and there's no guarantee you'll find a position that offers the same salary and benefits.
States like California allow people to cite unemployment when asking for spousal support changes. But they want claimants to attach proof to the request, including some type of unemployment paperwork or a letter from an employer.
Injury or incapacity
An illness or injury can come with medical bills, and sometimes, people must step away from work to heal. If these episodes happen after the divorce, they could impact your ability to pay spousal support to your spouse.
States like Texas allow people to cite illness or injury as grounds to change their payments to a spouse. But those same situations can't entice one partner to start paying another new spousal support amount. Injuries can only stop payments, not start them.
In some states, courts will suspend alimony payments if the payor is placed in jail or prison. Incarcerated people typically make a small amount of money while working on the grounds, and they may not have access to their assets while they face charges.
This approach doesn't always work. Some courts rule that the person chose to break the law and get arrested, so the alimony payments should continue. But sometimes, courts empathize with the detained person and suspend payments or terminate them altogether.
Most states terminate spousal support payments when either party dies. If you have proof that your former spouse has passed away, you can file documents with the court and stop making payments accordingly.
When can’t you change your spousal support amount?
Most states require paying partners to demonstrate a significant and involuntary change in circumstances to change a spousal support payment amount. These rules can discourage fraud, as they ensure people can't get back at their partners and limit incomes maliciously.
There are situations that can change your circumstances without altering your alimony amount. These are some of them:
Voluntary employment adjustments
While some people lose their jobs inadvertently, others make deliberate career changes that can change their household income. If you accept a low-paying job or resign from a good job with no plans to find another, courts are unlikely to change your spousal support amount.
Some people hide money by creating trusts and donating their funds to a third party. This accounting trick can dramatically reduce how much money a person has on paper, but it's a voluntary act.
If you create a trust and claim you have less money as a consequence, courts are unlikely to change your alimony amount.
People can make all kinds of expensive decisions. You could do the following:
- Buy a new house
- Sign a car lease
- Adopt a puppy
- Book your dream vacation
Any of these choices could impact your income, but they're all voluntary, calculated purchases. You can't cite them as factors that influence your spousal support payments.
When does remarriage impact spousal support?
When your divorce is final, you're free to marry someone new – and your former spouse can, too. Some unions can change spousal support payments.
In New York, for example, spousal support payments stop when the recipient party remarries. If you know that your former partner has tied the knot with someone else, you can file paperwork and halt your financial obligation.
But most states don’t allow a paying spouse’s new marriage to impact alimony. If you choose to marry someone new, you must keep your promise to your former spouse, even if the new union comes with financial challenges.
How to file for alimony changes
Every state has individual forms and processes for divorcing couples. But modifying payments typically involves a similar set of steps.
To change your spousal support payments, you will need to do the following:
- Find the court. The staff who handled your divorce should work with you to change payment amounts.
- File paperwork. Submit official forms outlining why you need to change your payments and attach proof to those documents.
- Notify your partner. Serve your partner with forms stamped by the court. In some states, those papers will have a hearing date marked too.
- Attend a meeting. A judge must rule on your request, and that typically involves a hearing. You must attend, and you can bring a lawyer to represent you.
Court rulings are official, and you can't ignore them. If you wanted to change your spousal support payments but the request was denied, you must accept that stance and continue paying on the prior schedule.
Have Questions About Divorce? Don't Know Where to Start?
More Women Are Paying Alimony (As More Wives Become Breadwinners). (March 2019). Market Watch.
Constitution Check: Did the Supreme Court Take Away States' Power Over Marriage? (September 2015). National Constitution Center.
Ask to Change Your Long-Term Spousal Support Order. Judicial Branch of California.
Family Code. Texas Constitution and Statutes.
Spousal Support or Maintenance. Legal Assistance of Western New York.