What does my new job mean to alimony?

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Q. I get alimony of $2,000 a month, and now that our kids are older, I went back to work and I earn $65,000 a year. A friend said she was surprised my ex hasn’t talked about lowering my alimony. Is that something he can do?
— Divorced

A. Maybe.

Any time an ex-spouse can establish that there has been a “significant, permanent change of circumstances,” the ex can seek a review and perhaps modification of a support obligation, said Kenneth White, a divorce attorney with Shane and White in Edison.

The review can be used to seek an upward modification, a downward modification or a termination of an alimony obligation, he said.

Whether your ex would be successful in securing a decreased alimony obligation depends on the specific facts and circumstances of your case.

“Any analysis would start with a review of the terms of your final judgment of divorce or marital settlement agreement as the same may have controlling language,” White said. “For example, some people when entering into a settlement setting terms for an alimony obligation may agree that such obligation is non-modifiable.”

In such a case, White said, it would never matter what you earned as your ex would never be entitled to secure a downward modification of the alimony obligation.

White said when your ex’s alimony obligation was set, some amount of annual income was probably imputed to you whether you were working or not. Therefore, just going back to work and earning $65,000 a year may not be a “significant, permanent change of circumstances,” as income close to $65,000 a year may have been imputed to you as part of the initial agreement.

Further, White said, your ex may be earning significantly more today than he was when his alimony obligation was set.

For example, if he was earning $100,000 at the time his alimony obligation was set, but now he is earning $200,000 a year, he may be hesitant to bring the matter to the attention of the court because he could fear that he would be exposing himself to more debt, whether by way of an increased support obligation or by incurring attorney fees and costs with little likelihood of success, White said.

The bottom line is that there is no exact answer to your question without a review of all the relevant facts and circumstances. That means if you want concrete reliable answers, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney in your area.

“If you were my client, I would simply suggest that you forget about your inquiry until such time as your ex raises the issue — if ever — as there is no upside for you losing any time or effort concerning yourself over something that may never arise,” White said.

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This post was first published in November 2017.

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