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Alimony Modification

Though most people view a divorce as a single action, the reality is that divorce is made up of a number of component pieces. Though there is one final decree, it includes things like alimony orders, child support orders, property division orders, parenting plans, custody orders, etc. All these separate pieces go together to form what most families in Mooresville think of as the divorce.

Though the participants in the divorce may be happy to have the marriage legally ended, they may not be so happy with the specific ways in which it occurred. Though you might like the property division, the custody plan or the alimony order might be hard to swallow. If that is true, what do you do next? Can you cherry pick and challenge?

It is important to understand that you have a right to contest any aspect of your divorce. The divorce is a legal matter and like all legal matters you have an ability to request reconsideration. That said, it is just as important to understand how difficult this can be in many cases. The reason it is difficult is that the justice system has a strong bias in favor of the trial court. Whatever the original judge decides, other judges that review the decision are apt to agree, deferring to the first court to hear and explore the matter. This is especially true with some aspects of the divorce, like division of property.

Other aspects of the divorce, such as alimony awards, are more easily challenged or modified down the road when and if circumstances change. When one spouse has been determined to be a “dependent” spouse and another the “supporting” spouse, these determinations are not written in stone. These are instead initial findings based on the division of property and fact-specific investigations that occurred during the divorce. The findings are meant to be viewed as specific to the current circumstances and subject to future review. That said, courts in Mooresville require any spouse challenging these determinations to clear a high burden to show why modification of the original alimony order is now appropriate.

When initially determining whether an alimony award is justified, courts will consider a number of factors. These include things like potential marital misconduct, assets that are awarded during the equitable distribution process, spouse’s relative earnings and potential future earnings, contributions to the family during the course of the marriage, etc. Though many of these things are fixed and not subject to change over time, that is not the case with everything. If a supporting spouse loses his or her job that will dramatically impact the ability of the spouse to pay future alimony. The same is true if the spouse receiving the alimony has a major financial windfall, changing the financial dynamics between the two parties.

Though modification of alimony is possible in North Carolina, courts generally prefer finality as it regards these matters. As a result, those seeking change will need to definitively show why a change is required. The test employed by North Carolina courts is that the person requesting modification must show that there has been a substantial change of circumstances. The change must be related to either the needs of the dependent spouse or the ability of the supporting spouse to pay the alimony already awarded. If this burden of proof is cleared then alimony modification can be approved and will usually be made retroactive to the date the request for modification was originally filed.

When is alimony modification not allowed in Mooresville? The law says that spouses who intentionally decrease their income are not subject to alimony modifications. That means purposely being fired or taking a lower paying job will not get you out of your alimony obligations. The same is true if the alimony award was part of a reciprocal agreement contained in the divorce. This means if you agreed to pay alimony in exchange for a larger share of the marital property the court will not let you back out of the deal down the road. Finally, any changes that were considered at the time the original order was entered will not be deemed substantial changes of circumstances. If, for example, retirement was already known and factored in, it will not serve as a basis for modification later.

If you are in the midst of a divorce or have already finalized your divorce but are now interested in modifying a previous alimony order and have questions about how to do that in Mooresville, reach out to one of the experienced family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC today. All of our family law attorneys have extensive experience in family law and are dedicated to fighting on behalf of those in Mooresville facing legal concerns related to divorce.