ALIMONY: Can I get more alimony/child support after the divorce is signed? Conversely, as the spouse who pays alimony/child support, can my obligations be reduced?
Usually, alimony is awarded where one spouse is significantly more financially fit than the other spouse. Alimony these days is usually limited in duration unless, after a lengthy marriage, the recipient spouse is disabled, or so advanced in age that the likelihood of finding work is low to non-existent.
Normally parties cannot challenge an award of alimony after the divorce if it was made through a stipulation of settlement or settlement agreement which was not merged into the judgment of divorce unless they can show a changed circumstance, or extreme hardship.
What is extreme hardship? It depends. For example, with what is going on on Wall Street today, it is conceivable that some spouses who are paying alimony have been laid off from their jobs and will not be able to continue the standard of living they and their former spouses have become accustomed to. It is also conceivable that investments that were once bringing in sizable returns have either tanked, or are bringing in considerably less than they used to for these individuals, and others who are invested in the market. In the meantime, the recipient spouse (who has an award of alimony) may now be gainfully employed and is able to better provide for him/herself than he or she was at the time of the divorce. This might constitute enough “changed circumstances,” and/or “extreme hardship” to justify a motion for upward or downward modification of alimony as the case may be.
The same is generally true for child support. Except that parties usually can’t contract to pay less support than the statute requires. The court will usually not enforce such an agreement if it is determined that it is not in the best interest of the child to enforce it. Any agreement made between former spouses or paramours that relate to the financial support of children must adequately meet the child’s needs or it is likely to be stricken when challenged. The reasoning is the public policy of protecting minor children. So in that case, a challenge for upward modification is likely to be upheld if the supporting non-custodial parent can pay more, and if more is needed for the child’s needs to be adequately met. Extreme hardship on the part of the non-custodial parent may be a basis to reduce child support payments as well.