Alimony: When is modification permissible?

My husband and I were married for 25 years. We divorced in 2006. He agreed to pay me $6000 a month in alimony. Our two daughters, 19 and 22, both live with me. I cover their insurance and some of their expenses. I struggle financially with all of my obligations. Recently, he has been threatening to lower my alimony. He claims he can’t afford the alimony payment, yet he seems to be jet setting all over the world with his new wife. I cannot support my daughters without the alimony. Can he do this?

Your ex-husband is not permitted to unilaterally lower your alimony payment. It is a court order that he must follow until the court says otherwise. He would need to file a motion to modify the payment. Whether the payment is modifiable depends on the wording of your decree of divorce or the agreement upon which the decree is based. Alimony is generally modifiable upon a change of financial circumstances, although some settlement agreements provide for “non-modifiable” alimony- so check there first.

If the agreement does not designate the alimony as “non-modifiable” then it can be modified if he shows the Court that his financial circumstances have changed. Case law supports a modification if there has been at least a 20% decrease in income. He would have to provide documentary proof of his alleged decrease in income.

Your financial circumstances are also relevant to this inquiry. Any increase or decrease in your income would be part of the consideration. Support of your adult daughters, however, is not likely to be persuasive evidence. There is no legal obligation to support your daughters once they are adults. It is important to remember that any obligation you feel to support your adult children is a moral obligation, not a legal one. Likewise, your ex-husband has no legal obligation to support your adult children.

Jessica H. Anderson
Divorce Attorney Reno, NV