What is a Spousal Support Modification?

M. Lupica

Spousal support is typically granted after a divorce with the purpose of allowing the dependent spouse to maintain the standard of living he or she enjoyed prior to divorce. The legal rationale behind such support is that the dependent spouse likely sacrificed a portion of his or her earning capacity in order to perform domestic duties. A number of factors go into the calculation of spousal support and significant changes in those factors may result in a spousal support modification. Some common causes for a spousal support modification are an independent agreement by the former spouses, an automatic cost of living adjustment, or a lessening or termination of spousal support when the dependent former spouse moves in with a significant other.

With a spousal support modification, the amount of alimony paid as part of a divorce can be increased, lowered or stopped.
With a spousal support modification, the amount of alimony paid as part of a divorce can be increased, lowered or stopped.

Some post-divorce relationships are more civil than others, and sometimes the former spouses are cordial enough to come to an independent agreement for spousal support modification. While it is a good sign that former spouses are able to work with one another on such an agreement, it is important for the parties to submit the completed agreement to the court, as such modifications typically require court approval. Otherwise, in the event the independent spouse decides to revert back to the pre-modification terms, the dependent spouse will likely have trouble enforcing the later agreement.

Some divorce decrees contain automatic escalators for terms such as cost of living or income increases in the independent spouse’s salary. A statement that escalates payments automatically according to such factors within the original spousal support clause is typically included for the sake of convenience. It ensures that the former spouses will not have to file a spousal support modification every time the independent spouse gets a raise.

Another automatic modification is the termination or lessening of payments should the dependent spouse cohabit with a significant other. This type of clause is a matter of fairness to the independent spouse. If the dependent spouse moves in with a significant other, it is assumed he or she is receiving support from that person. Therefore, there should be a spousal support modification lessening spousal support payments.

Evidence of a “material change of circumstance” needs to be shown if either party wants to independently file a motion that either lessens or increases payments. The filing spouse will have to show that there has been a significant change in either party’s financial circumstance that necessitates a modification in the interest of fairness. Common examples of this are significant increases or decreases in pay and illness that results in a heavy financial burden.

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