When a couple divorces and one spouse makes significantly less money than the other, it is not unusual for the other spouse to pay alimony, also referred to as maintenance or spousal support. The purpose of alimony is to avoid throwing the spouse who makes less money into a state of financial ruin by the divorce.
However, alimony is different from child support in that the law does not mandate it. Spouses may agree to it on their own, or the court may order it on a case-by-case basis. Usually, though not always, alimony can be modified if there is a change in the circumstances of either spouse or the spouses agree to the modification.
Provisions in the Agreement
The agreement between the two divorcing spouses may include provisions that the alimony arrangement can be changed. Some provisions change the alimony amount automatically so that spouses do not need to keep renegotiating. Examples include an escalator clause and a COLA clause. An escalator clause ensures that if the payor’s earnings increase, the recipient will receive a share of the increase. COLA stands for Cost of Living Adjustment and ensures that as the cost of living increases, the recipient’s alimony payments will increase proportionately.
However, spouses may also include a provision in the agreement that the alimony arrangement cannot be modified or terminated under any circumstances. There are situations in which such an agreement may make sense. For example, the recipient spouse may use this as a bargaining chip to get the paying spouse to agree to the arrangement. However, if the situation is uncertain, this may not be beneficial to either spouse in the long run.
Changes of Circumstances
If former spouses agree to a modification of alimony payments, it may not be necessary to involve the courts. However, if they cannot agree, the court can intervene and consider the case. Depending on the laws of the state and the terms of the existing agreement, the court may be able to grant a modification of the alimony arrangement. However, typically the spouse requesting the modification must be able to show a reason why it is necessary.
If either spouse experiences a change of circumstances, it may be enough to justify an alimony modification. The change in circumstances can be either positive or negative. For example, if one spouse were to become disabled, that may warrant an alimony adjustment up or down, depending on which spouse is affected.
An attorney, like a family law attorney in Lake Forest, IL, can examine your situation and determine whether alimony modification is an option for you. Contact our office to schedule an appointment.
Thank you to Hurst, Robin & Kay, LLC. for their insight into family law and divorce.