Alimony, Court Orders and Separation Agreements

alimonyI often get calls asking about modification of alimony.  Sometimes the calls are from the spouse who is paying alimony and there has been a job loss or other life event that prevents him from paying.  Sometimes the calls are from the spouse receiving alimony saying they need more alimony or a longer duration of payments for various reasons.   When these calls come in the first question that must be answered is whether alimony may be modified at all.   That’s right: alimony is only modifiable under certain circumstances.

When is alimony modifiable?

Example 1:   The parties sign a separation agreement that includes alimony that is not incorporated into a divorce decree.  The agreement does not mention modification of alimony and requires mutual agreement before any terms or obligations may change.   In this situation, alimony is not modifiable unless both parties agree to the change by amending the separation agreement.

Example 2: The parties sign a separation agreement that includes alimony that is incorporated into a divorce decree.  The agreement does not mention modification of alimony and requires mutual agreement before any terms or obligations may change.  However, the divorce decree signed by the judge has language in it that says it incorporates all the terms of the agreement. In this situation, alimony may be modified by filing a motion with the court alleging that there have been substantial changes in circumstances.

Example 3:

a. The parties never agreed and a judge had to enter an alimony order after a trial, or

b. The parties agreed but entered their alimony agreement as a consent document that became an order when it was signed off on by a judge.

In both these instances, alimony may be modified if a motion is filed alleging a substantial change of circumstances.

These examples are not exhaustive, but represent the most usual scenarios where the question comes up.

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Scott Allen is a divorce attorney in Raleigh, NC with over nineteen years of experience in all areas of family law litigation and settlement.  He can be reached at 919.863.4183.