Spousal Support IS Modifiable

spousal support

Can Spousal Support be Changed?

YES! The amount and duration of Spousal Support may be modifiable. You can go to court and ask the judge to increase, decrease, or stop spousal support any time during the period when court has jurisdiction unless you agree otherwise in your settlement.

In most states the court will retain jurisdiction over spousal support for different periods of time based on factors in the case. The main factors include:

  • Length of marriage
  • Age of the parties
  • Each party’s ability to support themselves by earning a living and or living off of the assets they own after the divorce.

Here’s an example.

A couple in their mid 50’s who has been married for 25 years with one party having been a full time parent would likely see the court retain jurisdiction over modification of spousal support forever in California. The length of marriage and ages of the parties would likely classify the example as a long-term marriage.

The working and paying spouse would be allowed to retire at normal retirement age, 65 or 67 depending on who you ask, at which point the amount of support could be modified to reflect the decreased income of the payer. If the payer continues to work past their normal retirement age they may be required to continue paying support at the same level. This has become more common as many baby boomers work past normal retirement age. Laws vary from state to state so be sure to consult experts in your home state.

During the court’s jurisdiction either party may petition the court for a modification based on a change of circumstances. A change of circumstances may include:

  • job loss by no fault of the worker
  • disability
  • decrease in earnings of a small business owner due to economic circumstances
  • retirement at an appropriate retirement age
  • many other factors.

What other life changes apply?

It can also go the other direction where a payer has a large increase in income, a one time financial windfall through bonus or stock compensation. In this case the payee could seek to modify the support amount upwards. We often work with the payee spouse to determine whether they should seek an upwards modification of support. In order to do so we may ask for the payer to provide annual income disclosures so we can be aware of any factors suggesting an upwards modification may be appropriate.

In some cases it makes sense for the parties to agree to a non-modifiable spousal support order. This so called non-modifiable spousal support can stipulate duration of the payment and or dollar amount or both. Non-modifiable spousal support comes with risks and rewards for both the payer and the recipient but can make sense for both parties in the right circumstances.

Some cases build modifications into the original agreement corresponding with the recipient reentering the work force or some change in financial circumstances in the future. These are often called step down orders.


Spousal Support After Remarriage

Spousal Support

Will I receive spousal support after remarriage?

It may depend on who is getting remarried. The payer or the recipient?

The remarriage of the payer has no affect on spousal support orders. Most divorce settlements do terminate spousal support after remarriage of the recipient. This is not a legal requirement just an assumption made in most cases and the family law code of many states. Some states even see co-habitation with a member of the opposite sex as grounds for modification of spousal support.

Get the facts.

Make sure you understand the financial ramifications of your new romantic interest before you dive into a new marriage. It is not abnormal for recipients of spousal support to postpone remarriage in order to maintain their spousal support payments. If you are still negotiating your divorce settlement but have designs on getting remarried soon here are some thoughts.

How Wellspring Divorce Advisors can help.

We have helped clients negotiate settlements to continue spousal support after remarriage of the recipient. Circumstances of the family financial picture or the health of the recipient party may support such a settlement. Like any negotiation each possible outcome comes with risks, rewards, costs and benefits. Wellspring Divorce Advisors can help you understand each angle and see if your circumstances may warrant continuing spousal support after remarriage.

Here are some examples of settlements we have helped craft.

1.The recipient party is permanently disabled and unable to earn a living for themselves.

In this case the recipient’s remarriage may have no effect on their financial circumstances due to their need for constant medical care. It may also be the payer simply wants to be sure their former spouse can live in comfort regardless of their circumstances and wishes to provide the minimum necessary to support medical expenses even after the recipient’s remarriage.

2. A non-modifiable order has been negotiated based upon other financial factors in the case.

Non-modifiable spousal support orders will include either a specified duration or dollar amount for the support payments regardless of other circumstances. For example if you negotiate a non-modifiable support duration of 10 years and get remarried in year 5 the spousal support would continue after the recipient’s marriage.

3. Some parties negotiate spousal support by agreeing to a total amount to be paid over the life of the order then work backward to determine the amount and duration.

In other words $1,000,000 over ten years which results in $8,333 per month for the life of the payment. Usually these types of settlements assume the continuance of spousal support after remarriage of the recipient in order to complete the full payment of the agreed upon $1,000,000.


If you are the payer the IRS makes one important distinction with regards to the termination of spousal support. Spousal support, alimony in their language, must terminate upon the death of the recipient for it to be tax deductible to the payer. They do not, to our knowledge, consider remarriage of the recipient to jeopardize the deductibility of the spousal support payments.

Dependency Exemption Non-Custodial Parents

The Internal Revenue Service released a memorandum in 2009, clarifying the rules governing non-custodial parent’s ability to claim a dependency exemption for their child.

Previously, the Service allowed a non-custodial parent to claim an exemption for a child if the custodial parent signed a written declaration releasing claim to the exemption and the non-custodial parent attached that declaration to their return. IRS Form 8332 is available to document this release.  In Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information, the Service has stated that a non-custodial parent may attach certain pages of a divorce decree or separation agreement, instead of Form 8332, if the attached pages include the information required on the form. Click here for more information from the IRS.

The Problem

A problem arose in the ambiguous language of the actual code.  It stated the release of a claim must be on Form 8332 or, if not on such form, must “conform to the substance of such form.” The ambiguity begat creativity and family law attorneys began drafting the declarations into settlement agreements. Taxpayers would then simply need to attach a copy of their divorce decree. This eliminated the need for Form 8332 and therefore, the need to speak to your ex-spouse every year requesting a signature.

The recent memorandum was directed specifically at the question whether it was allowable for a non-custodial parent to prove their right to the exemption by submitting proof of satisfaction of a condition in a divorce decree. The condition was that the non-custodial parent may only claim the exemption if current in his or her support obligation. This raises the problem of substantiation.

In the 2009 memo, the Service concluded the release must be on Form 8332 or must be a document conforming to the substance of Form 8332 and has as its only purpose the release of a claim to exemption. A divorce decree, separation agreement or parenting plan allowing a non-custodial parent to claim an exemption for a child, only if a condition is met, does not conform to the substance of Form 8332.  For tax years beginning after July 2, 2008, a settlement agreement, decree or judgment may not be used by a non-custodial parent to substantiate a dependency exemption for a child.

These regulations reflect the Service’s concern about substantiating a claim to a dependency exemption for a child and are intended to avoid problems of proof, minimize controversy, and minimize costs to parents.  The change does not preclude a non-custodial parent from claiming the exemption; it simply requires more care be made to make sure this is accomplished.

It may be helpful to include language stipulating the custodial parent will execute Form 8332 on a yearly basis. This follow up challenge can be alleviated by insuring the newly single parents consult a financial advisor with specific experience in the field of divorce financial planning. Two parents claiming an exemption for the same child will end in IRS audits for both and possibly bring a settled case back into the courtroom.

QDRO Process Explained: Click here to find out how to get started.


What do I need to know about a QRDO?

The QDRO process can take months to complete making it very important the process is started as soon as possible. Following is a timeline of the process you should expect when filing a Qualified Domestic Relations Order.

Let’s get started.

  1. An attorney experienced in drafting Domestic Relations Orders is identified and engaged by the parties.
  2. The QDRO Specialist drafts the Domestic Relations Order in accordance with specific plan provisions and the agreements reached by parties to the proceedings.
  3. The parties, together with their respective attorneys and financial experts review and approve the draft document.
  4. The Draft Qualified Domestic Relations Order is submitted to the Plan Administrator for pre-approval.
  5. The Plan Administrator responds to the drafter with any necessary revisions.
  6. Requested revisions are made to the QDRO and the revised copy is sent to parties and attorneys for review and signature.
  7. The approved QDRO is signed by both parties and sent to the court for the judge’s signature.
  8. A copy of the singed and court certified Qualified Domestic Relations Order is sent to attorneys or parties.
  9. The certified singed copy of the QDRO must be sent to the Plan Administrator for processing. Some QDRO experts will send the approved document to the plan administrator for the clients. Make sure you know who will take on the responsibility and do not make assumptions.
  10. The Plan Administrator will send a letter to the participant and alternate payee with instructions on how to access the plan and a timeline for completion of the division. It may be necessary for the Alternate Payee to stipulate an outside account for benefits to be rolled to.
  11. The Plan Administrator calculates the division of the plan pursuant to the QDRO and creates a separate account for the Alternate Payee.
  12. The Alternate Payee will receive confirmation that their benefits have been partitioned into a separate account or rolled over into the account previously stipulated.


For more information about the Qualified Domestic Relations Order and how it can affect you, visit our article Retirement Accounts & Divorce: Why you need a QDRO.


At Wellspring Divorce Advisors, we use state of the art divorce financial planning and forecasting tools for long term projections, retirement plan valuation, support scenario comparisons, and negotiation tools including child support and alimony guidelines. Click here to find out how we can help you.

Are pension and other retirement plans considered marital assets and subject to division in divorce?

Yes, retirement plans are marital assets subject to division to the extent they were earned during the marriage. State laws differ on how to determine exactly what “earned during marriage” means so be sure to check with a local expert. In California the presumption is that any pension plans, 401K balances and other retirement accounts are community property and subject to division unless/until proven otherwise. If the retirement plan benefit was earned during marriage it will be divided.

In order to earn pension benefits a worker must be employed and participating in the plan.

In order to participate in a 401K plan the worker must make contributions to the plan by deferring wages from his or her regular paycheck.

Since both examples would require the participant to earn their benefit in one form or another, either time in the pension plan or contributions to the 401K, these earnings are considered community property or martial assets and will typically be divided 50/50 unless their are other extenuating circumstances or the parties agree otherwise.

Be careful though to make sure you are dividing apples with apples as retirement plans are pre-tax money where as other assets may have already been taxed. The difference in value between $100,000 pre-tax and $100,000 after tax could be $20,000 or even $50,000.