Alimony modifications are extremely common in post-judgment divorce cases, but until recently, there has been conflicting law about when a court may modify awards of periodic alimony.
A case that was decided recently in Montgomery County helped to clarify when the modification of alimony is allowed in Wilson v. Wilson.
First, it is helpful to know what exactly periodic alimony is. Periodic alimony is money paid from one spouse to the other spouse for a designated period of time. For instance, say one spouse needs to go back to school in order to get a better job after a divorce.
Periodic alimony would be paid to the spouse going back to school perhaps only until graduation or until the spouse was able to secure a job. It is at the court’s discretion whether periodic alimony may be modified.
In this case in Montgomery County, a husband and wife were divorced in 2004. The husband appealed the portion of the judgment that awarded the wife some of his retirement benefits. The Appeals Court reversed this part, but still awarded the wife periodic alimony.
In 2013, the husband filed a complaint to modify the amount of periodic alimony he was meant to pay his ex-wife. The ex-husband stated he was about to retire and the periodic alimony would greatly decrease his income. Also, he alleged his ex-wife was employed and could support herself.
The ex-wife countered, saying her ex-husband had not complied with the rules of court and should be held in contempt. The trial court agreed with the wife, holding the ex-husband in contempt and denying his modification request.
Instead of appealing, the ex-husband just accepted the denial of his request. A year after this, the ex-husband again attempted to modify his periodic alimony. And again, he cited to retirement materially changing his financial circumstances as well as the wife’s ability to support herself.
The trial court entered a judgment in 2015 dismissing the husband’s complaint. After the 2015 dismissal, the ex-husband appealed this decision.
The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision explaining when a court may make a modification of periodic alimony. Essentially, it is the responsibility of the person asking for the modification to prove the material change in their circumstances that warrants a modification. Very importantly, this party must show the material change in circumstances occurred since the trial court’s last judgment or order that addressed periodic alimony.
All of the legal jargon surrounding these cases can be extremely confusing. The most important thing to remember is that if you seek to modify alimony payments, the burden is on you to prove a change in circumstance justifying the modification.
Keeping an accurate timeline of court dates and judgments is also extremely important to your case. And finally, the most important way to make sure you’ve complied with all the alimony modification laws is to discuss your case with an attorney who knows the ins and outs family law practice and procedure.