My ex inherited a house. Can this lower my alimony payments?


Q. If my ex-wife just inherited half of a home from a relative, and the home will be sold with a profit of about $200,000, can that reduce my alimony payments? If yes, do I file a motion once the home is sold, or can I do this now since she was already willed the home?
— Divorced

A. It’s not that simple.

It all depends on the very specific facts and circumstances of your ex’s and your divorce, your respective financial situations at the time of your divorce and your respective current financial circumstances.

Once an alimony obligation is set, it stays the same as originally dictated unless there is a subsequent consensual agreement of the parties or an order from the court, said Kenneth White, a certified matrimonial attorney with Shane and White in Edison.

“To secure an order of the court over the objection of your ex, you would need to file a Notice of Motion and submit supporting documentation with the court,” White said. “To qualify for the court review and perhaps modify or terminate your alimony obligation, you will need to meet your burden of proof by establishing that a `significant, permanent change of circumstance’ has occurred.”

So what qualifies as a “significant, permanent change of circumstance?” It’s very fact specific, White said.

For example, he said, if your alimony obligation was set at the rate of $100 a week, it is a very different situation than if your alimony obligation was set at the rate of $1,000 a week.

“If it was $100 a week, one may be able argue that your ex receiving a lump sum benefit of $200,000 — a sum equal to 2000 weeks of alimony payments — has significantly reduced her need for alimony either based on the lump sum payment itself or the potential income such a lump sum may generate, and therefore the alimony obligation should be reduced or terminated,” he said. “However, if the original obligation was set at $1,000 a week, a lump sum inheritance of $200,000 would not likely lead to a conclusion that there was a `significant, permanent change of circumstance.’”

Similarly, what your ex’s and your respective financial means were at the time the original alimony obligation was set would also be relevant, he said.

For example, if at the time your alimony obligation was set you each had net worth of under $100,000, an inheritance of $200,000 may lead to a conclusion that a “significant, permanent change of circumstance” has occurred, White said However, if you each had or have a net worth greater than $1 million, an inheritance of $200,000 would probably not lead to you securing any relief from your originally set alimony obligation, he said.

White said there are many additional factors to be considered when analyzing whether a “significant, permanent changes of circumstance” has occurred, justifying a review and perhaps modification or termination of a support obligation.

This can include your ex’s and your annual earned income at the time the original support obligation compared to incomes now and whether the alimony obligation “open durational” — permanent — or whether it was set for a limited duration.

Given all the variables, it would make sense for you to consult with a divorce attorney who can review the specifics of your situation.

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This story was originally published on Nov. 29, 2022. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.