Modifying Spousal Support or Alimony

Like child support, spousal support is modifiable (up or down) by showing of a substantial change in circumstances. As alimony is initially awarded to provide one spouse with support sufficient to maintain the standard of living of the marriage, the court must first determine that standard before it can address whether there has been a substantial change of circumstances. To determine the marital standard of living, the court may require a party to produce financial records including the Case Information Statement, tax returns filed during the marriage, and credit card and bank statements detailing income and spending during the marriage. A substantial change in circumstances may have occurred in the lives of either party. For example, the payor may have retired or become disabled. The receiving spouse may have experienced increases in the cost of living, if, for example, he or she cannot find employment. A substantial change of circumstances may have occurred because the spouse receiving support has remarried or is cohabiting with another adult. The court may still have the power to reevaluate and amend the terms of support, even if the former spouses agreed in writing not to seek the court’s intervention to address post-judgment support issues.

Either party may move for a change in spousal support. Upon a motion made by either the party paying support or by the party receiving it, a family court judge may review the terms of a support agreement/order and determine whether they should be changed. This process usually requires an attorney.

When presented with a post-judgment application requesting the modification of a support obligation, the court normally takes two steps. First, the court determines that the moving party has shown changed circumstances sufficient to modify the specific support provisions involved. This prima facie (preliminary) showing of changed circumstances must be shown before the court may consider the other spouse’s ability to pay or order the exchange of financial information. Then, if the court finds that a question of fact exists as to whether the specific support provisions involved should be changed, it may take the second step and conduct a plenary hearing before rendering a final decision.

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