Is my Spousal Support Award Modifiable?

Whether a spousal support award is modifiable depends on how it was ordered. In some cases, it is modifiable, which means that your husband can take you to court on a “material changes in circumstances,” and argue that support should be lowered and, vice versa, that you can take him to court and argue that support should be increased. Modifiable support means that if your spouse retires and earns less income, or if you fall on some sort of economic hardship while he gets a promotion, your spousal support can be adjusted to reflect those changes.

Non-modifiable support can’t be changed. If your support is non-modifiable, you will receive a specific sum of money for a certain period of time, or forever. Of course, “forever” doesn’t really mean forever—it means until either of you dies, until you (the recipient spouse) remarry, or until you (the recipient spouse) cohabitates in a relationship analogous to marriage for a period of one year or more. This is a fancy way of saying that, if you move in with someone and carry on a romantic relationship where you hold yourself out to the community as a couple for more than a year, your support could be terminated.

In most cases, spousal support is modifiable if the award was ordered by the judge, which means that either you or he can change the level and term of the spousal support awarded, so long as you can prove that there was a material chance of circumstances. Normally, a material change is just about anything that affects your finances—you got a new job, he lost a job, he retired, you remarried, or either of you got a raise or took a pay cut. The good news is that it’s possible for your support to be raised upward; the bad news is that your support can be lowered, and, either way, you’ll have to make an appearance in court (and probably pay an attorney) to have it raised or lowered.

If your spousal support was ordered in a separation agreement, it is non-modifiable unless your agreement says otherwise. Unless you do something to terminate your award of permanent spousal support (die, remarry, or cohabitate), you will continue to receive the same level of support regardless of any major life changes. This is usually the preferred scenario. Though it can be attractive to know that you can possibly increase your level of support, there is something to be said for the security and stability of a non-modifiable order of support.

If you’re wondering whether your award is modifiable or non-modifiable, look to the document that ordered support. If a judge entered an order after a hearing, you’ll want to read that order. If you and your husband negotiated a separation agreement, you’ll want to read the agreement. Read the language over very carefully. If the order is silent about modifiability, your support is modifiable. If your separation agreement is silent about modifiability, your support is non-modifiable. If, however, either document specifically states that your support is either modifiable or non-modifiable, then you will be bound by that language.

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