My income has changed, due to COVID-19. Can I reduce my alimony obligation?
I do not practice law in your state. Therefore, I cannot inform you as to the specific laws of your state, but I can provide you with general tips for this sort of issue.
The first question you would need to answer to determine if your alimony payments could be reduced is whether the alimony payment is considered modifiable. Some alimony payments are made to be nonmodifiable, either by the family court or through negotiation, and if the payments are nonmodifiable, there is, unfortunately, nothing you can do to reduce the payments.
If the alimony payments are, in fact, modifiable, in many jurisdictions, when you have ongoing support obligations, the support is considered modifiable if there is a change in circumstances. A change in circumstance the alimony context generally is a change in either party’s income. That being said, if you want to modify the alimony order, it generally is not automatic upon a change of circumstance.
You have an affirmative duty to notify the court if there is a change in your income. If you do not notify the court and formally request a modification of the alimony order (again assuming your alimony order is modifiable), the current support amount will continue to be charged at the current level even if you cannot pay that amount. What this will result in is a higher “arrears” (essentially a back amount owed) balance that you still will have to pay at some point in the future if you cannot pay the current support amount.
Unfortunately, although a reduction in income is considered a change in circumstance, the court typically will not modify the amount or duration of support if it appears that the change is circumstance is considered temporary.
For example, there is case law that states that a 20-month reduction in income was only temporary. Therefore, a reduction in alimony was not warranted.
However, if payment will become an issue for you, I would suggest contacting the enforcement unit and advising them of the change in your circumstances to see if they would stay an enforcement proceeding against you until such time as your employment and income return to pre-pandemic levels.
While arrears still will accrue on the original amount, if the enforcement department is willing to stay any enforcement proceedings, this should mitigate any other actions against you, such as lack of payment being reported to credit agencies or incarceration for lack of payment.
However, please note this completely is within the discretion of the court, so I cannot guarantee that enforcement will not be sough against you. Also, I strongly would suggest that if you are able, you continue to pay the alimony at the level awarded, so you ensure that no enforcement proceedings are initiated.
Another alternative is to attempt to privately negotiate a temporary reduction in your alimony. If you and your ex-spouse can come to a private agreement, a stipulation, preferably prepared by an attorney, can be submitted to the court encapsulated the terms of the temporary agreement. Any stipulation modifying support must be filed with the court. Otherwise, the original support/alimony order will continue to be in full force and effect, and the court will not know that the terms have been modified.
Dan Pearce is an Online Editor for Lexicon, focusing on subjects related to the legal services of customers, Cordell & Cordell and Cordell Planning Partners. He has written countless pieces on MensDivorce.com, detailing the plight of men and fathers going through the divorce experience, as well as the issues seniors and their families experience throughout the estate planning journey on ElderCareLaw.com. Mr. Pearce has managed websites and helped create content, such as the Men’s Divorce Newsletter and the YouTube series, “Men’s Divorce Countdown.” He also has been a contributor on both the Men’s Divorce Podcast and ElderTalk with TuckerAllen.
Mr. Pearce assisted in fostering a Cordell Planning Partners practice area specific for Veterans, as they deal with the intricacies of their benefits while planning for the future. He also helped create the Cordell Planning Partners Resource Guide and the Cordell Planning Partners Guide to Alternative Residence Options, specific for seniors with questions regarding their needs and living arrangements.