Are Alimony Decisions Permanent?

Q: Since my divorce 5 years ago, my income has been cut rather significantly, and my ex-spouse’s has increased. Is it possible to get an alimony modification, or is the decision permanent?

A: Well, fortunately, the short answer is yes, alimony can be modified, depending on what the court originally ordered. The long answer is that if you are eligible to modify alimony, it is a complex process, subject to an intensely large amount of scrutiny and review.

There are quite a few different types of alimony payments, each with their own requirements and rules. Durational, bridge-the-gap, lump-sum, rehabilitative, and permanent periodic are some examples. The court will determine the most appropriate type of alimony and spousal support payments in the final judgment entered at the conclusion of your original proceedings.

Of course, everything changes over time, so what was once the appropriate spousal support may no longer be, and luckily, certain types of spousal support paid over time may be able to be modified.  Unless it is specifically waived, Florida Statutes section 61.14 states that if either party’s financial situation changes, alimony can be modified.

It is not an easy process though. Not only does there have to be a change in financial circumstances, but financial records will be scrutinized by the courts to ensure that the alimony obligor is not purposefully altering their finances in order to lower alimony payments, or that the alimony recipient is not purposely altering their finances to increase alimony payments. Sometimes a vocational expert is used to help the court make an informed decision about the need for modification.

Of course, if the individual in question is not making good faith efforts to improve their financial situation to where it was before, the court could view the financial deterioration to be purposeful salary cut that does not entitle the movant to a modification.

There are exceptions. An alimony obligor may experience financial hardship due to a conscious decision to return to school.  In this case, the court may side with the obligor, and temporarily reduce the spousal support payments until school is over.

Regardless of the exact details, adjustment and modification of alimony payments is a tricky process, and you will want an experienced family law attorney on your side.