How to Lower Alimony
by Unbundled Legal Help
Many marriages end with an order for alimony payments from one spouse to another that last a specific amount of time after the divorce. In some cases, alimony payments can be made permanent. Because life circumstances can change you may be wondering how to lower spousal support.
So long as your alimony agreement doesn’t stipulate otherwise, you can potentially lower your payments. In most cases, you need to show a change in circumstances that warrants lower alimony. If your ex agrees, then a judge will likely approve it. If not, you may have to go to court to prove why the reduced alimony is justifiable.
Getting your alimony lowered can be a complex and sometimes difficult endeavor, especially without the help of a proven divorce lawyer in your area. Learn more about how to lower alimony below. We can connect you today with a local divorce attorney to discuss your options.
How Can Alimony Be Reduced or Modified?
Paying alimony to your ex-spouse for many years can eventually become draining and overwhelming. It can make matters even worse if you have gotten remarried and are trying to balance your new responsibilities with alimony payments.
Regardless of why you want to lower alimony payments, it is recommended that you first check your alimony agreement. If it can be modified, you will need to come to an agreement with your ex or get prepared to prove to a judge that there has been a substantial change in circumstance.
Check Your Alimony Agreement
Most alimony agreements specifically address when and if payments end, whether the agreement can be modified, and when it can be modified. Learn more about the elements of alimony agreements below.
- When Alimony Payments End: Payments can end on a specific date, or the end of payments may coincide with an event such as the remarriage of either spouse
- When Alimony Can Be Changed: Alimony can sometimes be changed after a specific date or after certain events like the loss of a job, serious injury, etc.
- Whether Alimony is Non-modifiable: Some divorce agreements stipulate that alimony cannot be increased or decreased for any reason
Show a Change in Circumstances
If your divorce settlement agreement or alimony order doesn’t specify a specific date that alimony can be modified, then ex-spouses can generally ask for a modification of alimony payments at any time. Some spouses can reach an agreement on their own and then have their plan approved by a judge.
If you cannot agree with your spouse, most family courts require that you show a significant change in the financial circumstances of you or your spouse before they will grant a reduction in alimony payments. During the discovery phase of the trial, you and your spouse can request financial information such as pay stubs, bank account information, etc.
Can Non-Modifiable Alimony Be Terminated?
A non-modifiable agreement is just as it sounds; you cannot change it. If you have agreed to non-modifiable alimony you will not be able to change it, no matter how indigent your circumstances become. This is why it’s important to hire an experienced divorce lawyer to help you to draft your alimony agreement, or at least review it.
Common Reasons to Request Modification of Alimony
As previously mentioned, you are required to show a significant change in either you or your ex’s financial circumstances to get approval for modification of alimony. It is important to note that all reasons are not considered “good reasons.” A few common reasons which ex-spouses use to request a reduction in alimony payments include the following:
Lost Your Job
One of the most commonly cited reasons for requesting lowered alimony is the loss of a job. In many cases, the amount of money that you made at your job had a substantial impact on how much alimony you were ordered to pay. If your ability to make the same payments has been compromised, a court will probably approve your request.
It is imperative to remember that the courts will require that you show an “unanticipated change” in financial circumstances to justify a modification of payments. Most courts do not consider quitting your job as a reason to justify reduced payments.
Additionally, courts will sometimes grant a temporary reduction in alimony until you have been able to find comparable employment. If your new job pays you less, you can petition the courts to temporarily or permanently reduce alimony payments to reflect your new income levels.
Income Has Gone Down
Losing your job is not the only way that your income can be significantly reduced. A family court judge can potentially agree to lower alimony payments in the following situations:
- You work in sales and your income has dropped as a result of market forces.
- You are no longer physically able to work in the same capacity that you did before.
- You are in a sales-related role and you are no longer making as many sales as before
- You can no longer rent out an investment property and/or other sources of recurring revenue have decreased (i.e. decreased dividend payouts)
Your Spouse Is Making More Money Than You
A common theme with requests for modification of alimony is the spouse that was initially receiving alimony is now making more money than the spouse making the payments. This could be due to them starting a business, getting a promotion, entering into a new field, receiving an inheritance, etc.
Regardless of the reasons for your spouse’s increased income, if you request a modification under such circumstances, it is likely that it will be approved. However, it is important to note that approval is not guaranteed. If your income has gone up at the same time as your spouse’s income has, it can make it more difficult to justify a modification of alimony payments.
Your Spouse Gets Remarried or is Cohabiting With Another Person
Many alimony agreements and orders stipulate that alimony payments end if the ex-spouse receiving alimony gets remarried. Unfortunately, some people attempt to get around that rule by cohabitating with a romantic partner for years at a time.
Some states allow alimony payments to be reduced or terminated if there is proof that the spouse receiving alimony payments is cohabitating with another person “like they are married.”
You Are Retiring or Have Become Disabled
Most states recognize age 65 as an expected time for retirement. Once you are ready to retire, you can request that your alimony payments be reduced or ended. Some alimony agreements stipulate what happens at retirement. If not, courts do take into consideration your pension, 401k, and other sources of retirement income before deciding on your request.
Furthermore, disability is another reason that a judge may agree to a reduction in alimony payments. In most cases, the disability must significantly affect your ability to earn your “normal income.” Judges often require proof of your disability as well as its effect on your finances before approving reduced alimony.
Other Reasons To Reduce Alimony Payments
There are dozens of reasons why a judge would potentially approve your modification of an alimony request. Some less common reasons include:
- Payee spouse receiving a significant gift, reward, or award
- You lost your job while participating in a strike
- There has been a change in tax laws that have negatively affected your income
- You have been sent to jail or prison
- The overall living expenses of your ex-spouse has decreased
Because it can be difficult to get your alimony reduced for any reason, it is in your best interest to hire an alimony lawyer. You should find one in your area to discuss the details of your case and develop an effective strategy.
Why Would a Judge Deny My Request To Lower Alimony?
Just because you request to have your alimony reduced, it doesn’t mean that a judge is obligated to approve it. If you cannot show a significant change in circumstances to justify a reduction, a judge will likely deny your request. Furthermore, if it is proven that you purposefully reduced your salary by quitting your job, then it’s not likely that your request will be approved.
Another reason that a judge may deny your request is if you lost your job, but have not seriously looked for another job. For these reasons, you should speak with your divorce lawyer before requesting a modification of alimony.
Can I Stop Spousal Support Payments?
Spousal support and alimony laws differ from state to state. In general, there are a few reasons why a family court judge will approve the termination of alimony payments. They include:
- Your ex-spouse remarries or cohabits with another person
- The payee spouse dies
- The income of the receiving spouse has significantly increased while the paying spouse’s income has stayed the same or gone down
- Continuing the payments will cause proven financial hardship
How Long Does Alimony Typically Last?
The amount of time a spouse is ordered to pay alimony will depend on how long you were married to your ex and other factors. In general, short-term marriages (less than 10 years) can lead to alimony payments of 2 - 5 years.
In long-term marriages (i.e. more than 20 years) a family court judge could order alimony payments until the death of either spouse or a remarriage. If you have been ordered to pay alimony indefinitely, you may still be able to modify the payments. However, you will be required to justify your reason for requesting lowered payments.
Should I Hire a Divorce Lawyer to Help Me Lower Alimony?
You are not required to hire a divorce lawyer to help you lower alimony payments. However, doing so can significantly increase your chances of a favorable ruling. A divorce lawyer with experience in alimony modifications can help you draft a new agreement, negotiate with your ex-spouse, and represent you in court (if needed).
Additionally, an experienced divorce lawyer will help uncover evidence if your ex is hiding finances or relationships. The truth is, many don’t even think about hiring a lawyer because they are worried about the costs.
Most family law lawyers charge $3k - $5k upfront and an additional $300 - $500 per hour on top of that. Needless to say, many people cannot afford these types of fees. Fortunately, unbundled legal services offer you the chance to save money by hiring a lawyer to take care of some things while you handle the rest.
Learn more about how you can save money by hiring an unbundled attorney below.
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Before you spend thousands of dollars in upfront legal costs to simply lower your alimony payments, get into contact with an unbundled lawyer, and learn if your case is a good fit to be unbundled today.