If Your Financial Circumstances Change After Your Divorce, You May Need to Seek a Modification

It is not uncommon for circumstances to change following a divorce.  If your spouse pays you alimony and he/she is terminated from employment, they might seek to modify the alimony obligation owed to you.  Modifications are not just reserved for a change in financial circumstances.  If something changes in connection with your children and timesharing, that circumstance may warrant a modification of the time the children spend with each parent.

How do I know if I am entitled to an alimony modification?

If you are paying alimony to your former spouse, you may be entitled to a modification of those obligations if a substantial, material, unanticipated, permanent change has occurred.  So, what does that mean?  Generally, if you have an alimony obligation and your income has reduced at least 10%, you could be entitled to a modification of that obligation.  For example, if you work on salary and commissions and through no fault of your own, your commission structure changes and you will be earning 30% less in commissions than you were in previous years working the same clients, this could be a substantial change warranting a downward modification of your alimony obligation.

Generally, to obtain a permanent modification, your changed circumstance must persist for one (1) year.  You could be entitled to relief upon the reduction of your income, but that relief could be temporary and revisited again once you begin earning more money, or if it becomes clear that after one (1) year, this is your new income structure, a permanent modification may be warranted.

In addition, the change in circumstance must be unanticipated.  For example, if you agreed to your alimony obligation but you knew at the time you agreed that your commission structure was changing, then this is anticipated, and you might not be entitled to relief.  There are many factors that a court will consider prior to awarding a modification.

You may not be entitled to a modification if you agreed to pay non-modifiable alimony and it is clearly stated so in your settlement agreement.  If you cannot continue paying at the rate you agreed to, you may not be held in contempt, but your arrears will accumulate, and you will be legally responsible for paying the arrears until they are paid in full.  If you agreed to non-modifiable alimony, it is still worth discussing with an attorney, because your former spouse may be willing to restructure the payments to accommodate your reduction in pay and to extend the payments to ensure he or she is paid the original total amount.

What is a supportive relationship?

A supportive relationship is a relationship between an alimony recipient and another adult not related by consanguinity who reside together.  Generally, these two adults hold themselves out to be spouses or financially relying upon one another, reside together permanently, pooled or are pooling assets or income, support one another, perform valuable services for one another or the other’s employer, or they have purchased real property together.

If you receive alimony from your former spouse and you begin residing with a significant other, you could be at risk of having your alimony award reduced or terminated.  Before you move in with someone, you should consult with a Fort Lauderdale modification attorney to determine what result this could have on your alimony award.

If at any time, alimony obligations are modified and child support is also being paid, a modification of child support will also occur to take into consideration the reduced income of the payor spouse, and the reduced alimony award of the recipient spouse.

What if I suspect my former spouse has deliberately reduced his or her income and now tells me he or she cannot afford to pay alimony?

This is a common situation.  If your former spouse has voluntarily reduced his or her income to reduce his or her ability to pay alimony, it is not likely they will be entitled to an alimony modification.  Through the discovery process, your attorney can determine the actual cause for the reduction in income and can make arguments to the court that alimony should remain the same and that the payor spouse has unclean hands.  This is common in a family business where the former spouse hires the new spouse or significant other and redirects income that was normally taken by the former spouse and paid to the new spouse or significant other.  The money remains in the former spouse’s household, but is not paid directly to the former spouse.  This is easy to track and prove, and a good attorney will know what evidence and documents to look for in order to defend against an alimony modification action.

Can I modify my child support obligation?

Child support obligations are always modifiable.  The State of Florida’s public policy regarding child support is that the support obligation is the right of the child, not the parent receiving support, hence neither parent can waive the child’s right to support.  It is also public policy to ensure that the child support transfers from home to home with the child.  For that reason, the guideline takes into consideration how much time the children will spend with each parent and the timesharing becomes a factor in the child support.  If your timesharing schedule changes and you are having more or less overnights with the minor children than you were originally entitled to under your settlement agreement or final order, child support can be modified to accommodate that change.

To modify child support based upon financial circumstances, there must be a change in income that yields a 15% change but not less than a $50.00 change in the child support obligation.  Your pro-rata share of the child related expenses will also change.

If you receive child support, and your income increases, your former spouse could seek to reduce his or her child support obligations based upon your income increase.

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