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Can Alimony Be Increased or Decreased?

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

In situations where one party faces major changes to their finances, alimony may come into play for couples. Alimony is typically awarded in divorce to ensure that a non-monied spouse can maintain a comparable standard of living to that which existed during the marriage. 

Yet alimony isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation, nor is it static. The amount awarded, and the duration of the award, varies between families—and over time. In New Jersey, depending on the circumstances of the case, alimony increases or decreases can happen during the pendency of your divorce proceedings or after a divorce settlement has been finalized. 

However, these issues can often be complex and are incredibly fact-sensitive. Working with an experienced alimony attorney is the best way to navigate the legal process for requesting alimony modification in New Jersey to protect your financial security. 

Factors the court considers when deciding alimony

Alimony is typically decided during the initial divorce proceedings. In New Jersey, there is no set formula for calculating alimony. Instead, courts review the circumstances of each case based on fourteen factors, which include:

  1. Financial need, as well as the ability of spouses to pay
  2. The length of the marriage or civil union
  3. The physical and emotional health and age of the parties
  4. The established standard of living
  5. Career earnings capacity
  6. The length of time the requesting spouse has been without work
  7. Parental responsibilities
  8. Time and financial energy required to prepare the requesting spouse for work
  9. Historical contributions to the marriage, both financial and non-financial
  10. Equal distribution of property
  11. Each person’s income and assets
  12. Tax implications
  13. Legal fees paid by and in support of either party
  14. Additional factors the court deems relevant

Establishing a spousal support settlement should consider both the immediate and long-term needs of spouses. However, it’s impossible to predict how financial situations will evolve over time, and in some cases, it may be necessary to request changes to alimony payments. But before you can modify your alimony order, you must clearly demonstrate a change in financial circumstances. 

Factors the court considers when increasing alimony

Based on the original alimony agreement between the parties, or the decision of the court, an increase in alimony is possible under certain conditions, including decreased income, illness, and loss of housing.

It’s worth noting that all of the examples below are involuntary or unexpected changes in circumstances, rather than intentional ones. Courts are more likely to approve an increase in alimony when parties face lasting circumstances that are beyond their control. Someone applying for additional alimony due to their own choices—like quitting a job or opting to rent a more expensive home—may be less likely to have their alimony modification requests granted. 

Changes in the cost of living

Significant cost of living increases, including a higher cost of rent—increased rent due to inflation, for example—may qualify for alimony modification requests. However, the requesting party must prove that the cost of living has changed enough to warrant an increase in alimony.

Decrease in income 

A dramatic change in income may qualify individuals for an increase in alimony. This can result from a job loss, failed business venture, or other change in circumstances. Note that the court may require the requestor to demonstrate good faith effort to find similar-paying work, and a temporary loss of income may not justify an alimony modification.

Illness or disability

If a long-term illness or disability arises that substantially increases one’s monthly expenditures or limits employment options, an alimony recipient may be able to request additional monetary support.

Loss of housing

If the dependent party loses their housing and will have to spend a significant amount of time and money on a search for new housing, the courts may agree to a temporary alimony modification until the need for additional support diminishes. 

Factors the court considers when decreasing alimony

There are also several reasons why a spousal support award may be decreased. Similar to alimony increase requests, parties will need to prove not only a permanent and significant change in circumstances, but also explain why that change calls for an alimony modification. These situations include illness or disability, increased income, a new marriage, or other big changes.

Serious illness or disability

If a supporting party suffers from a serious injury or disability, they and their attorney will need to demonstrate that this is a permanent situation, rather than a temporary one. The burden of proof may include determinations of disability and/or receipts for medical treatment, as well as evidence that this medical issue renders the person incapable of maintaining their job or procuring a new job with similar pay. 

Increase in income

Some types of alimony, such as limited-duration alimony or rehabilitative alimony, are tailored to a specific expected financial situation for the supported party, such as having to attend school or professional training in preparation to rejoin the workforce. Over time, if those circumstances change and the requesting party can demonstrate a significant increase in the supported spouse’s income, then the supporting party may be able to request a reduction or termination of alimony. 

Marriage or cohabitation with a new partner

Alimony may be reduced or terminated if the recipient cohabitates with a new partner. Determining whether cohabitation occurs depends on analyzing a number of factors including shared cost of living, joint bank accounts, living arrangements, and other financial considerations.

In New Jersey, if the supported spouse remarries, then the supporting spouse may file for a termination in alimony, contingent on the original divorce settlement agreement or court determination. This also depends on the type of alimony; reimbursement alimony (which is awarded for a set period of time to recoup specific expenditures) may still apply regardless of marital status.

Additional significant changes

Just as the courts do not use a set calculation to determine alimony, there is no definitive list of significant changes that trigger a change in alimony payments. Parties should always consult with an experienced alimony attorney to explore their current circumstances and potential paths forward.

How to pursue an alimony modification request

What is the process for altering alimony payments? To request either an increase or decrease in alimony, the requesting party must either come to an alimony modification agreement with their former spouse, or petition the court to modify alimony if both parties can’t reach an agreement.

In general, a party cannot file for an alimony modification just because they’re dissatisfied with the current arrangement. Modifications must be based on demonstrable changes in someone’s life or financial circumstances. 

In most cases, the person seeking to modify the alimony agreement must have proof of a significant and permanent change in circumstances. For this reason, it is highly recommended that parties work with trusted legal counsel throughout the modification process. 

Speak with an alimony attorney in New Jersey

Alimony modifications can be challenging to navigate. As life circumstances change, a previously acceptable alimony agreement may no longer suit your situation. At Jacobs Berger, we work closely with our clients to protect their financial futures, no matter what curveballs life throws at them. 

Make an appointment to coordinate your strategy session with our team today.

Contact Our Morristown Attorneys Today

At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.