Can Spousal Support Payments Be Increased or Decreased?

There are two types of alimony (also known as spousal maintenance or spousal support) in California: temporary and permanent. While the divorce case is still pending, a family law judge may issue an order for temporary spousal support. Depending on the circumstances of both parties, the family law court may determine that alimony payments should be more permanent. But are there certain circumstances wherein spousal support could be modified, terminated, or changed in any way?

Yes, it is possible to modify existing alimony agreements. To modify or terminate alimony obligations, one party will need to prove to the courts that there has been a significant change in circumstances since the original alimony orders were issued.

Temporary spousal support orders can usually be modified at any time prior to the final divorce settlement. However, the court will still require some change of circumstances in order to justify this change.

In regard to permanent or long-term alimony obligations, it may be possible to modify these arrangements if the court considers various factors and determines that a change is necessary. However, long-term spousal support orders can be made nonmodifiable in certain divorce settlements.

What Factors Affect Existing Alimony Agreements in California?

Examples of what might justify the modification or termination of alimony payments include the following:

  • A significant change in circumstances. If there has been a major change in circumstances for either party, it may be possible to modify existing alimony agreements. Such changes in circumstances may include an increase or decrease in income, a new living situation, job loss, or a significant new injury or illness.
  • Agreement. If the two ex-spouses can agree to terms on modifying or terminating alimony obligations, it may be possible to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.
  • Cohabitation. If the recipient spouse begins cohabitating with a new partner in a romantic relationship, it may be possible to modify or terminate existing alimony arrangements. If the family law court finds that the recipient spouse is in a cohabitation arrangement with a new partner, it may conclude that alimony is no longer necessary.
  • Remarriage. Alimony may be terminated if the recipient spouse remarries. In most cases, remarriage is considered a significant change in circumstances.

What Qualifies an Individual to Seek Alimony Modifications?

If you are requesting that your alimony obligations be decreased, you must demonstrate to a family law judge that either you or your ex-spouse have experienced a significant change in financial or living circumstances. If you have lost your job, had your wages reduced, experienced a new disability, or your ex-partner has experienced an increase in their income, you must prove these factors to the judge in order for your case to qualify for modifications.

The recipient spouse may also request an increase in alimony payments if they can prove that a significant change in circumstances makes such a modification necessary. For example, they may wish to prove to the courts that their ex-partner (the one paying the alimony) has experienced a dramatic increase in income and that they should be able to provide more spousal support.

What is the Process for Requesting a Spousal Support Modification?

The easiest way to successfully modify spousal support in California is for both parties to agree to a modification, write up the new agreement, and present it to a family law judge. However, agreeing with your ex-spouse is not always the easiest thing to do in the world, and it may be necessary to take other routes when seeking alimony modifications.

If the spouses cannot reach an agreement together, the spouse requesting alimony modifications must follow the following process:

  • Fill out the appropriate court forms and paperwork.
  • A family law facilitator must review the documents.
  • Two copies must be made of each document.
  • The forms must be filed with the court clerk.
  • You will then get a court date.
  • The papers would then be served to the ex-spouse.
  • File proof of service.
  • Go to your courtroom hearing.
  • Prove to the court a significant change in circumstances, making the alimony modifications necessary.

By employing the help of an experienced attorney, this process can be made simpler, and you can avoid costly mistakes.

When Can Alimony Not Be Modified?

Alimony cannot always be modified. If a divorce agreement or other marriage contract prevents changes, it may be impossible to modify your alimony obligations.

In certain situations, an Order of Fixed Duration can prevent spousal support modifications. Some spousal support orders are only meant to last for a certain amount of time. Once this time has elapsed, no family law court can extend or further modify the alimony arrangement.

Can You Refuse to Pay Alimony?

No. If you have been ordered to pay alimony, you must pay it.

Failure to provide spousal support payments in a timely manner can be met with harsh consequences.

What Might Cause an Alimony Agreement to Be Terminated?

Temporary and permanent alimony could potentially be terminated in California. Typically, the termination of permanent or temporary alimony requires a court order or a written agreement by both parties. Alternatively, alimony payments are also terminated if the recipient spouse remarries or if one of the spouses passes away.

Other reasons why judges might grant petitions for the termination of alimony payments include:

  • The recipient spouse has had a significant increase in their income or resources.
  • The paying spouse suffers a significant decrease in income that is beyond their control.
  • The paying spouse is now over 65 years old and wishes to retire.

If no agreement can be reached between the parties on the termination of alimony, the party seeking changes must file a motion with the court. This party would then have the burden of proving a significant change in circumstances.

Contact Our Law Offices to Schedule Your Initial Consultation Today

It is possible, given certain considerations, for alimony payments to either be increased or decreased depending on the changes in circumstances. If there has been a significant change in your circumstances since the alimony orders were originally issued, contact our law firm to discuss your case with our highly skilled legal team.

The Law Office of Patrick O’Kennedy has extensive experience representing clients in family law issues such as alimony obligations. Contact our law office to schedule your initial consultation today. You may reach us at 714-701-6356.