Can alimony be modified after a divorce is final?
Alimony can be modified after a divorce. Under F.S. 61.14 (1)(a), the court is granted the authority to issue an “order decreasing or increasing the amount of support, maintenance, or alimony.” Non-modifiable permanent alimony should not be ordered unless specifically agreed to in a settlement agreement between both parties. The court should not issue such an order unless one party petitions for modification. In determining whether modification of an alimony award is justified, the court will look for evidence of a substantial change in circumstances, the financial needs of the recipient, and the financial ability of the payor.
The alimony terms of a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement may be modified if the circumstances have changed substantially since the time of the agreement. Although changes in the financial ability of the paying spouse are grounds for modification, the court may deny a reduction in an alimony award based upon the “clean hands” doctrine. Under this doctrine, the court will not reduce an obligation to pay alimony if the financial ability of the paying spouse has decreased due to his/her own voluntary acts.
There is a general rule that the court will apply when it come to increasing an alimony award as a result of an increase in the paying spouse’s income. The court should raise the alimony amount so that the difference between both parties’ income is the same as or close to the difference in incomes before the increase in the income of the paying spouse.
The court has denied petitions for alimony reduction in instances where the paying spouse claimed a decrease in ability to pay, but his/her lifestyle indicated otherwise. The court uses the “life style” during the marriage to determine the financial needs and ability to pay after the divorce. The court has reduced alimony payments when the recipient spouse showed a decrease in need, such as living in a less expensive house.
Inflation is most often not a strong enough argument for the court to increase an alimony award. The petitioning party must produce specific evidence of how price levels have impacted his/her financial well being.
When modifying alimony payments, the court cannot rule retroactively. The effective date of the modified alimony award must be any day from the date petition for modification was filed until the day the order was given by the court.
Court orders calling for automatic modifications in alimony based upon income increasing, retirement, bonuses, inflation, etc. have largely been rejected by appellate courts. F.S. 61.14 states that there must be a change in circumstances to justify a modification in an alimony award. Consequently, any formula based automatic adjustment which fails to account for the pertinent circumstances will most often be overruled.