Can Alimony Be Extended?
Alimony or spousal support as called by many jurisdictions helps provide monetary payments from one spouse to the other spouse after divorce or separation. The purpose of alimony is to support the spouse receiving the payment within a specified period of time, specifically until such spouse can be financially independent. There will be circumstances however wherein the spouse may not yet be financially independent and may wish to extend the duration of alimony payments.
Most alimony awards such as the divorce decree or marital settlement agreement are provided through a court order. Such court order contains provisions relevant to alimony, such as specifying the amount and the duration of the award. Some alimony agreements state that they are not modifiable and will not be modified by the court unless there are very specific exceptions, such as the agreement being the result of fraud.
Spousal support is not awarded automatically in all case. Spouses may agree that alimony is appropriate in their case and agree to a specific dollar amount and the time frame in their marital settlement agreement that is subsequently incorporated into the divorce decree. But in the instance where parties do not agree, the family court turns to state law to determine whether to award alimony, what type of alimony to award and the amount and duration of alimony.
There are several types of alimony, such as lump-sum, rehabilitative and permanent alimony. Lump-sum alimony is an amount paid at one time and does not continue in nature. Rehabilitative alimony is intended to support the recipient spouse so that he or she can take steps to become financially independent, such as look for a new job or finish college. Permanent alimony may be awarded in a longer marriage to the recipient spouse who never developed the skills necessary to be self-sufficient.
The court must usually consider the other spouse’s need and the paying spouse’s financial ability to pay alimony in determining alimony. The court may also consider the earning capacity, education, current income, amount of assets, age, and health of each spouse. Additionally, it may consider the contributions that the spouses made to the marriage, the lifestyle they had during the marriage, arrangements pertaining to minor children and tax consequences.
Material Change in Circumstances
If there is no provision to the contrary, the award for alimony may be modified. However, the court that made the court order may be hesitant to change an award unless there is a certain factual showing of a material change in circumstances. This may require showing that the recipient spouse needs the time extended due to a lost job, lost assets, an illness or disability that affects the spouse’s ability to earn income or other significant change that occurred since the alimony award was made.
Other important changes may be determined as part of the state statute or common law. Factors such as an increase in the cost of living, an increase in the paying spouse’s income or unemployment by the recipient spouse may be included as factors.
The burden to show that the change warrants modifying the existing order and that the other spouse does indeed have the financial ability to continue paying the alimony amount lies in the recipient spouse. If the alimony was rehabilitative in nature, the recipient spouse may also have to show that the extension is consistent with the rehabilitative goals that were established in the original agreement or decree.
Bar to Extensions
Due to special circumstances, the court may refuse to change the alimony award in some situations. For example, if the recipient spouse helped contribute to the dire financial circumstances, such as quitting a job, the court may be hesitant to order an extension. Likewise, if the recipient spouse is not as dependent due to having another source of income or support, the court may not find that the recipient spouse has an adequate need to justify the modification.