Paying alimony to an ex-spouse does not get easier over time.
If anything it gets worse. Especially if you’ve remarried and are trying to plan for your future with your new spouse.
Paying alimony may stink. But Florida Courts recognize that sometimes alimony needs to be changed or modified, regardless of the length of the agreed-upon alimony.
Below we discuss 13 scenarios where you can seek to reduce your alimony.
You’ve Lost Your Job
The most common reason a payor spouse asks the court to reduce or end alimony is that of losing a job.
Your ability to pay played a big role in determining your initial alimony payments. If you’ve lost your ability to pay then you have a good chance of reducing your alimony.
Corporate downsizing is a common reason for job loss requiring alimony modification. Employees often see their incomes grow over time with their experience. Every so often a business while terminates higher paid employees and replace them with cheap labor. If you lose your job you may need to immediately seek a reduction in your alimony to stay afloat.
Remember though you must show a material and unanticipated change to justify changing alimony. The courts have determined that quitting your job is usually not unanticipated. So don’t plan on quitting your job just to modify alimony and then go back to work.
Also, it is sometimes appropriate to ask the court for a temporary reduction in alimony after a job loss. This is asking the Court to suspend alimony for an indeterminate period of time while you find new employment. If you find employment at a similar rate of pay the Court can then reinstate the award. If you are making less money though you can ask the court to permanently reduce the alimony because your income has gone down.
Your Income Has Gone Down
You can ask for a reduction in alimony if your income has gone down.
This occurs in the following scenarios:
- After losing a job you found reemployment but at a much lower salary.
- You have sales related employment but because of market forces sales have declined and your income has dropped as well.
- You have sales related employment but you’ve gotten older. Your sales referral network has started to retire and your ability to generate sales has decreased.
- Your physical health has declined and your ability to generate income has decreased as a result.
If the income loss is temporary considering asking for a temporary change or suspension of your alimony. If however, all signs suggest that you’ll permanently make less money than ask for a permanent reduction or end of your alimony.
Your Spouse Went Back To School and Is Making More Money
You settled your divorce case. She stayed home with the kids during the marriage. Her earning power was low. You agreed to pay support when you got divorced. You agreed to pay support because she needed it.
But then she went back to school. She earned a degree. Now she has a good job. She is earning good money.
She doesn’t need your alimony anymore.
The good news is that you can ask the Court to reduce the alimony you pay if she doesn’t need as much money anymore.
You can file a request to modify. You then can subpoena from her employer records showing her income. Both you and she will file financial affidavits. You’ll be able to see her expenses. If her income covers her reasonable expenses and standard of living from the marriage you have a strong chance to reduce your alimony.
Note however in Florida, courts like to see something more when reducing alimony. So if your income has stayed the same (or gone down) you’ll have a much better chance at success then if your income has gone up consistent with hers. If your income has gone up while your spouse’s’ income has gone up and his/her needs are not met then alimony modification won’t fly in Florida.
Your Spouse Comes Into an Inheritance
Your former mother in law has passed. Your ex-stands to inherit a substantial sum of money. What does this mean for spousal support? It means you have an excellent chance to reopen your case and have your alimony reduced. Presumably, your ex will receive liquid post-tax assets. These assets can generate a reasonable return for your ex that she can use to contribute to her living needs. To the extent that the inheritance reduces your ex’s living expenses, you may be able to reduce your alimony.
Payee Spouse Receives a Substantial Gift or Award
Likewise, if your spouse gets a substantial gift or award you may be able to reduce your alimony payments.
For example, consider a gift from a family member who is trying to gift some of his or her estates away for estate planning purposes. Such a gift can be considered by the divorce court judge when modifying alimony.
The same principle applies if your ex-receives a substantial award. For example, your ex-was in a car accident and received a substantial personal injury award. However, your ex is still able to work and otherwise support herself as before. That personal injury award may help you reduce your alimony obligation.
Your Spouse Remarried
This is the best reason to terminate alimony. Florida requires as a matter of law termination of alimony if the person receiving alimony gets remarried.
Of course, many spouses receiving alimony are wise to this rule. They try to backdoor the rule by simply living with their significant other without remarrying, which leads to the next reason on your list:
You Spouse Cohabitates With Another
In the old days, the ex-receiving alimony would shack up with a new man or woman but not get married. And the ex-paying alimony would keep having to pay.
Florida lawmakers fixed this problem a few years ago by adding the cohabitation statute.
The law was intended to end alimony if the person receiving payments lives with another person in a way that suggests they are intending to live like a married couple.
“If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, then its a duck”.
The law allows the payor spouse to terminate or reduce his alimony obligation if he can show that a supportive relationship exists between the payee spouse and a new significant other.
The burden is to prove your case “more likely than not”, or 51% more likely.
For a full guide on cohabitation and alimony modification check out our article here.
You Need to Retire
If it’s time to retire then it might be time to come back and change or end your alimony.
Florida law presumes the time to retire is 65 years old. So if your 65 and retiring, you can come back to Court and plead your case to get rid of alimony. And of course if you have health reasons causing you to retire earlier that can be grounds to modify as well.
However, Florida looks not just at your income but also your assets at retirement. So if you are retiring with millions in IRA’s and 401K’s recognize that Florida courts can consider these sources to pay.
With that said, you don’t have to liquidate your retirement to pay your alimony obligation. The Court will simply look at what your minimum withdrawal will be at retirement and consider that your “new” income.
You’ve Become Disabled
Disability is another reason deeming a modification of support. Or more specifically, a disability that leaves you unable to generate the income you earned before and/or creates additional expenses you did not have before.
Nobody plans for a disability. Disabilities that arise after a divorce are almost always substantial and unanticipated. That means the doors are open to a modification.
Ideally, you begin the Federal or State disability process at the same time as the alimony modification. Most Judges will want to see a determination of disability before agreeing to modify an alimony award permanently.
You Participated in a Strike and Lost Your Job
We mentioned this reason to reduce alimony because it perfectly shows the nature of “intentional”.
And while a person may intentionally participate in a strike, a firing as a result of the strike is “unanticipated” according to Florida courts and can open the door to at least a temporary modification of alimony.
Change in Tax Laws
Gross income is the top end dollar amount you earn.
Net income is what you actually bring home after taxes.
In Golf terms: Gross income is for show, net income is for the dough.
Changes in tax laws can alter the dough you bring home. If you are already paying alimony, tax laws that lower your net income can be a problem.
And with the reason tax alimony law signed in to law by President Trump set to go into effect in 2019, alimony modifications will be on the rise.
That’s because the alimony deduction will be rolled back with the new law. For a payor spouse who is ordered to pay 4K in alimony with an income of $150K that deduction was “worth” more than $1K a month!
If you are set to lose money because of a tax return change, look at the rest of the scenario to see if a modification makes sense? Are you making the same amount of money as before? Is your spouse making more? You may have a multi-pronged attack to fight alimony.
You’ve Been Incarcerated
If you’re going to jail you have feel you have bigger fish to fry than modifying alimony.
But a Judge is only allowed to modify alimony from the date that a Petition to modify alimony is filed. If you go to jail and wait years to open the action you’ll be looking at a substantial alimony debt when you get out of prison.
A better bet is to file a request to modify alimony at the onset. Ask the judge to temporarily abate the alimony while in custody and retain jurisdiction for when you are released. Then, go back in front of the Florida Judge for a permanent reduction if needed based on your employability upon release.
Your ex-spouses living expenses have decreased
What if your ex-spouse’s living expenses have actually decreased?
For example, you ex-spouse moves out of the condo in Downtown St. Petersburg away from the city and finds comparable housing in Hernando County? Now, all of her living expenses are significantly cheaper. And your ex has made it clear this is a permanent move.
If you can show that the reduction in living expenses is permanent you have the ability to seek a reduction in your spousal support obligation. However, if the move by your ex is only temporary, the court will not change the alimony amount.
Another example of decreased living expenses is when your ex is living full time with a significant other. Similar to a cohabitation argument, the contribution to joint expenses on a regular and recurring basis can justify reducing support.
Has your financial situation really changed? Has your ex’s? Was the change unanticipated at the time of the divorce? If so you might have a good reason to lower or even end your alimony.
But remember: Judges hate changing things. Alimony is no different. And in Florida, the more reasons you have to seek or reduce alimony the more likely you will win your case.