Alimony, also called spousal support, is monetary payments that are made by one spouse to the other spouse when the spouses divorce or become separated. The purpose of alimony payments are to support the receiving spouse during the time they are attempting to become financially independent. In certain situations, the amount of the alimony payments can be changed, or modified.

A family court will consider a situation in which the spouses have unequal bargaining power and have been married for a long time. The court will also assess the spouse’s financial needs and whether or not one spouse has the ability to pay alimony to the other spouse. Alimony is intended to equalize the financial resources of the divorcing couple.

It is important to note that spousal support is not automatic. It is not ordered in every divorce case. In certain cases, the court may award temporary spousal support to one spouse while the divorce is pending. 

Alimony is not the same as child support. Alimony payments are payments made from one spouse to another. Child support payments are made from one spouse to another in order to support a child under the age of 18 and support their essential needs such as education, healthcare, and housing.

The process of requesting alimony varies from state to state. Generally, an individual can request alimony in family court.

It is possible for the divorcing couple to come to an agreement regarding spousal support. If the divorcing couple is unable to reach an agreement, the court will make a decision regarding the eligibility of the spouse and the amount they should receive. The court will consider several factors and analyze each case separately. 

Generally, there are three different types of spousal support. Depending on what type of alimony is available in an individual’s jurisdiction, they may petition the court for one that fits within their unique situation. The options include:

  • Temporary support while the divorce is pending;
  • Short-term and rehabilitative support; or
  • Long-term or permanent support.

The court may order temporary support while the divorce is pending in cases where the non-earning spouse is in need of immediate support after the separation of the couple. The court may award this type of support while the divorce is being resolved.

The court may order short-term and rehabilitative support when the marriage was short in duration. Short-terms support typically lasts only a few years, and a precise ending date for payments is set in the court order. 

Rehabilitative support is a specific type of short-term support that is designed to facilitate a dependent spouse to get retraining and back into the workforce. It typically ends when the receiving spouse goes back to work. The receiving spouse is held accountable for pursuing necessary training or courses of study and then searching for a job. 

A court may order permanent support after a long marriage, typically 10 years or more. If the court determines that the dependent spouse will likely not be able to return to the workforce and will require support indefinitely. It is important to note that some states do not permit permanent support.

There is not a fixed amount for spousal support. The amount is dependent upon the income each spouse makes and whether or not the paying spouse can pay alimony and child support, if required. Typically, the family court examines:

  • The monthly income of each spouse; 
  • The reasonable day-to-day expenses; and 
  • Whether an alimony award would still sustain the standard of living established during the marriage. 

In many cases, if there is enough money between the parties to establish something close to the standard of living they had during their marriage, the court will attempt to make the divorcing parties share the financial burdens equally.

When is an Increase In the Amount or Duration of Alimony Permitted?

An alimony payment amount may be increased in amount or duration due to changing financial circumstances of the parties in several different ways, including:

  • A reduction in the alimony recipient’s income;
  • A loss to the alimony recipient’s financial assets;
  • A decrease in the recipient spouse’s ability to earn income;
  • An increase in the alimony recipient’s justified expenses;
  • Failure of the recipient spouse’s financial condition to improve as originally thought; or
  • An inadequate original alimony award.

It may be possible to increase the amount or duration of alimony payments if the financial situation of the paying individual improves. This is usually limited to an increase in alimony payments that covers the unmet financial needs of the alimony recipient. 

How can a Spouse Increase the Amount or Duration of Alimony?

If a spouse needs to increase the amount or duration of the alimony they receive, they may request a modification of alimony payments. In order to obtain an increase in the duration or amount of alimony a spouse is receiving, they must show that the change in their financial circumstances is sufficient in magnitude to warrant a modification of the alimony payments. 

They must also show that the paying spouse has the financial ability to pay the requested increased amount of alimony. In certain situations, the spouse who is receiving alimony and requesting a modification of the amount of alimony must prove that the increase in the amount or duration of payments is consistent with the rehabilitation goals outlined in the original divorce decree or settlement agreement.

What is the Result of a Successful Argument?

If the recipient spouse successfully argues for a spousal support modification, the court may order one or a combination of the following changes:

  • An increase in the amount of alimony;
  • An extended duration of alimony payments;
  • A lump sum or security for payments of future installments in a small number of cases; and
  • Attorney’s fees and litigation costs.

When is an Increase in the Amount or Duration of Alimony not Allowed?

In general, if any of the following circumstances exist, a court will be less likely to alter the existing alimony:

  • The change in financial circumstances is not sufficient enough to warrant an increase in the amount or duration of alimony;
  • The recipient spouse caused or contributed to their changed financial circumstance;
  • The recipient spouse has another source of income or support; or
  • The paying individual’s financial situation has declined significantly.

Do I Need an Attorney to Handle my Changing Alimony Issue?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced family lawyer for any issues you may have with changing your alimony. If you need to increase the amount of alimony you receive because your financial circumstances have changed, your attorney can help present your case to the court. They are generally your best chance at getting the extra money you need to get back on your feet. 

If you are trying to defend against your ex-spouse who is requesting an increase in alimony payments, an attorney is your best chance at keeping your alimony payments as they are. It is important to note that, if you have requested a modification of the alimony payments, you must continue making payments at the current rate until the court orders a modification. Your attorney is best equipped to present evidence to the court as to why the payments should remain as they are.