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
- 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.