When married, spouses have a legal obligation to support each other. Upon a divorce, this duty does not always end, and is called spousal maintenance, spousal support, or “alimony.” Alimony responsibilities cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Alimony payments end through remarriage of the supported ex-spouse, the death of the supporter, or the full reimbursement / rehabilitation of the supported ex-spouse.
Just as with all family support obligations, alimony payments can be modified by filing a motion with the court regarding a “change of circumstances.” A change of circumstances can include a bona fide and substantial decrease in income which was not the result of trying to escape payment of support. A change of circumstances includes getting laid off of work or losing a job due to disability.
A change of circumstances also includes retirement at the age of 65 – if retirement occurs before 65, it may not be sufficient. Next, justification for reducing alimony payments may be the cohabitation of the supported ex-spouse with another person. The court looks for evidence of a marriage-like relationship, where both tend to support each other.
Alimony can often be modified if there is an increase in the cost of living, there are healthcare costs as a result of illness or disability, or there is a loss of the house by the supported ex-spouse. However, alimony generally may not be modified if the property settlement agreement includes a provision restricting the parties from changing the alimony amount.
Many ex-spouses who are paying alimony make it their life’s mission to stop paying. They file alimony reduction motions every few years. However, most are not successful, because there has not been a significant change in their circumstances.