When And How Can A Spousal Maintenance Award Be Modified?

Once an award of spousal maintenance (alimony) is ordered by the court, it may be modified if certain criteria are met. In order to modify and award of alimony, the party seeking modification obtains a court date and serves and files motion papers. Keep in mind that the modification, if granted, is usually only retroactive to the date that the motion papers are served on the other side. For that reason, it is important to obtain legal assistance at the earliest possible time, rather than allowing arrears to build up, if you are unable to afford the maintenance obligation as ordered.

Any of the following provide a basis for the judge to modify an existing alimony order:

  • Substantially increased or decreased earnings of either party;
  • Substantially increased or decreased needs of either party;
  • Receipt of public assistance benefits;
  • Change in cost of living, as measured by the federal government; and
  • Significant medical expenses incurred on behalf of a child that are not otherwise addressed in the judgment and decree.

Additional factors for consideration include the initial standards the court addresses in awarding spousal maintenance:

  • Financial need of each party relative to their income;
  • The ability of one party to pay the other spousal support;
  • The length of marriage;
  • The mental and physical health of the parties;
  • The role each party played during the marriage, in terms of working or raising children;
  • Financial assets available to each party to supplement their income;
  • The educational background of each party; and
  • The age of each party.

While the issues involved in modifying spousal maintenance are usually addressed in motion papers alone (such as affidavits and exhibits), some judges will order an evidentiary hearing (trial) to determine whether the request for modification is appropriate.