FSO (Family Support Obligation) determinations, including spousal support obligations, are never designed to be permanent. Alimony payments, in terms of both amount and duration, are based on several amorphous factors. Since these factors change frequently, the government recommends that people modify spousal support orders at least once every three years.
Regardless of the basis for modification, and regardless of the other party’s agreement, a Buffalo family law lawyer must always get a judge to approve the modification. Only judicial modifications have any legal force and effect. If your payments fall short of the amount in the decree, or if you are owed more than the other party has paid, an enforcement proceeding may be in the cards.
Grounds for Modification
In terms of alimony, the obligee spouse’s economic need and the obligor’s ability to pay basically determine the amount and duration of payments. If either of these things change, a Buffalo family law lawyer could move the alimony amount either up or down.
Eligibility for, or termination of, public assistance benefits could affect the spousal support calculation as well. Public assistance comes in many forms, such as Social Security payments or subsidized health insurance. It could also include things like favorable (or unfavorable) tax law changes.
In any case, the income or expense change must be so substantial that it renders the current alimony award unfair. The party filing the motion has the burden of proof to establish changed circumstances. The changes must be permanent, unanticipated, and involuntary.
This part of the modification process is often tricky. For example, a spouse cannot voluntarily reduce his income to reduce his spousal support obligation. So, if Ricky accepts an early retirement package so he can pay less alimony to Lucy, a judge may not approve a reduction. Ricky’s motives are obviously hard for Lucy to prove in court, especially if Ricky had mixed motives for accepting early retirement.
These same problems arise if Lucy begins a serious relationship with Fred but does not marry him. Ricky could argue that Fred’s financial assistance decreased Lucy’s financial needs. Lucy and her Buffalo family law lawyer could counter that she and Fred are “just friends.”
Alimony modifications usually involve long-term payments. There are other types of spousal support as well. But temporary alimony payments automatically terminate when the divorce is final, and short-term orders rarely last more than three years.
The aforementioned needs/ability analysis is very subjective. To help a judge make a more accurate determination, Minnesota law sets forth a number of factors to consider. Some of them include:
- Standard of Living During the Marriage: This factor is relevant even if the parties have been divorced for several years. In Minnesota, long-term alimony is basically an income redistribution tool.
- Duration of the Marriage: There is an assumption that the longer the marriage lasted, the more the obligee spouse invested in the relationship both financially and emotionally. That assumption may or may not be true, but there it is.
- Income/Expense Information: A simple spreadsheet may be determinative in modification cases. As a very general rule of thumb, if income or expenses increase or decrease by at least 10 percent, a Wright County judge may conclude that there has been a substantial change in financial circumstances. Additionally, this information may help foster an agreed resolution.
- Agreements Between the Parties: Wright County family law judges almost always approve agreements between the parties as long as they are not blatantly one-sided and each spouse had an independent Buffalo family law lawyer.
Other factors, which may be more relevant in original proceedings, include the relative age and health of the parties and the award of marital and non-marital property.
Buffalo Family Law Lawyers and Procedural Issues
Due to the subjective nature of this process, alimony modification disputes are very common. Mediation, either before or after a spouse files a modification petition, usually resolves them.
In many cases, pre-petition mediation is very effective. As mentioned, Wright County judges usually approve almost all alimony modification agreements. Often, the parties agree in principle (a modification is necessary) but disagree in practice (the amount of the modification).
Mediation is ideal in situations like this one. Many mediators use general agreement as a foundation for specific agreement. If the parties go to a judge with a proposed modification, many judges approve the modification without even holding an adversarial hearing. So, pre-petition mediation saves time and money. Everybody likes that.
Rely on Diligent Attorneys
The alimony modification process may seem intimidating, but an experienced Buffalo family law lawyer makes it a lot easier. To get the legal help you need, call Carlson & Jones, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.