Changes in Circumstances Matter for Alimony Modification
Even after a court enters a final dissolution judgment in a divorce case, and the obligated party makes payments for years, the alimony obligation can be modified when circumstances warrant. As made clear in an appeal decision (Nangle v. Nangle, 2019) by the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal, a court has to take into consideration the changed circumstances around both the parties need and the parties ability to pay.
Request to Modify Alimony Wrongfully Denied
In the appealed case, the trial court awarded the former wife permanent alimony of $2,000 per month when, at the time, she was in need, not employed, and had been primarily a homemaker and caregiver for the former couples’ children. Eight years later, the former husband requested the court to modify or terminate alimony. He argued that his circumstances changed since the alimony determination that were substantial and were not contemplated at the time.
At a hearing on the request, he testified that when he had retired, he continued receiving monthly stock redemption payments from his former company until they ran out two years prior; that he was living on only his pension, social security, and minimal interest income; and that his monthly deficit was $1,195. Also at the hearing, she testified that her assets increased and her debt decreased, but that she would still not be able to meet her monthly expenses unless the alimony payments were maintained. The court denied his request, reasoning that the end of the monthly stock redemption payments must have been contemplated at the alimony determination and that her financial situation had not substantially changed.
Changes in Circumstances Matter
In determining that the trial court was wrong, the appeals court reaffirmed that the following must be established to modify alimony:
- a substantial change of circumstances;
- the change was not contemplated at the time of the final judgment; and
- the change is sufficient, material, involuntary, and permanent in nature.
Looking over the record, the appeals court found that, even though the original alimony award listed the monthly stock redemption payments, the original court did not clearly articulate any consideration that the redemption payments would cease.
Perhaps more importantly, the appeals court stressed that, in making any alimony modifications “as equity requires,” a trial court should consider each parties’ income, the need for the alimony payments, and the ability to pay. However, a trial court is not allowed to require someone to go into debt or deplete assets to pay alimony.
After considering the legal standards and the facts of the situation, the appeals court ruled that the trial court’s determination should have—but did not—take into consideration the significant reduction in his monthly income, her lack of ongoing mortgage payments, her substantial increase in earnings, and her increased assets.
Have you experienced any changes in circumstances?
If you are facing changes in your ability to pay alimony, or you know that the need on the other side has substantially changed, reach out to a divorce attorney in Florida for help. An experienced advocate can help you evaluate your individual situation and chart a course of action. You may have legal rights to exercise in modifying your alimony obligations. Call the Fort Lauderdale divorce attorneys at the office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. today at 954-467-6656 or visit us online to schedule a free consultation.