Spousal Support Modification – Is it right for you?

There are many existing divorce agreements that have orders of spousal support or alimony. Recently, many states, including Massachusetts, have instituted new guidelines to determine who will receive alimony and for how long. The alimony that was set in an agreement or judgment years ago may no longer make financial sense.   There may be specific reasons why you may need to modify the results.

Remarriage

According to the recent Massachusetts alimony statute, if the spouse who is receiving the support marries or moves in with someone else and “maintains a common household” for at least three months before the alimony period ends, the support would be suspended or terminated. However, it is often up to the payor to take an action, either through mediation or the court, to modify the support officially.  Ultimately there would need to be a court order that changes the alimony amount or length of time.

Financial Hardships

In today’s economy, financial difficulties are more common. People may lose their job and be forced to accept a lower-paying job. Job loss may continue for increased periods of time.  Illnesses and other unexpected emergencies can place a financial strain on the person who paying alimony. In these situations, a judge may temporarily lower the support obligation to prevent even greater hardships.

Changes in Income

Many agreements have clauses that allow the alimony to be modified due to changes in income for both the person paying and the person receiving alimony.  If the person receiving alimony has been able to increase the earnings from the time of the divorce their may be a modification formula or trigger in the agreement that would enable the parties to mediate a modification agreement.

Other Changes in Circumstances

To modify any support order, it is important to have a change in circumstances. This can mean many things. The party receiving alimony could have increased their earning ability over the years since the divorce and may no longer need the original negotiated amount.  Other changes in circumstances can include cost of living increases, changes to spousal support laws and a new disability.  The emancipation of the parties’ children and the termination of child support may trigger the start of alimony if that was originally negotiated in the divorce agreement.   If you have experienced any major changes in circumstances, consider mediating these modifications.

Spousal support is designed to help the spouse who made less money or stayed home to raise the children get back on their feet as they enter their new life. It is not always meant to be permanent, and is typically only ordered for a specified period of time. However, there may be reasons why an alimony order would need to be modified and mediation is a cost effective and non-adversarial way to accomplish this.