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Alimony Modification

Alimony Modification

Alimony, sometimes called “spousal maintenance” or “spousal support,” is (traditionally) money paid by a higher-earning spouse to a lower-earning spouse. Alimony’s historical purpose has been to help lower-earning spouses meet their financial needs until they can support themselves. However, modern interpretations of the purpose of spousal support are more flexible. It can, for example, be used to make up for an imbalance in the value of assets retained by one spouse in a divorce agreement. Because Texas laws are broad and leave considerable room for argument, alimony remains one of the most heavily disputed issues during and after divorce.

There are several ways to pay alimony. Typically, the paying spouse, or “obligor,” pays monthly payments over a period of years. A divorce decree outlines the monthly amount and amount of time that the obligor must pay the spouse receiving payments, or “obligee.”

Texas Alimony Modification Attorney

Most people who have divorced are not familiar with alimony modification, how it works, and what is necessary to ensure good results. It is important that you consult with a lawyer who can advise you of the options, your legal rights, and work to obtain a favorable outcome in your case. Texas attorney Matthew Horak at Horak Law has over 10 years of experience in family law and can offer you skilled legal representation.

Set up your first consultation with Matthew Horak of Horak Law by calling our office at (713) 225-8000. Horak Law has offices in both The Woodlands and Houston, but we accept clients throughout the State of Texas including Fort Bend County, Brazoria County, Liberty County, Harris County, Galveston County, Liberty County, and Waller County, TX.

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Increasing, Decreasing, Suspending Or Terminating Alimony Payments

If, after the divorce decree becomes final, either spouse hopes to change the payment structure or the terms of a spousal support agreement, Texas law imposes several requirements on the spouse requesting the change. In alimony modifications, the obligor or obligee can file a motion and request the change. The spouse requesting a modification must prove to a judge that there has been a material and substantial change in the circumstances of either party that justifies modifying the original order. Modifications to alimony include increases, decreases, termination, and occasionally, a temporary suspension of monthly payments.

A material and substantial change in circumstances for either spouse may include:

  • A new job/occupation with increased pay;
  • Job layoff or reduction in pay; or
  • New and significant changes in a spouse’s health.

For example, an obligor spouse who receives a serious medical diagnosis not present at the time of the divorce could be considered a changed circumstance. Perhaps the most common example includes obligee spouses who find new jobs that pay more. Similarly, a situation in which an obligee spouse obtains education or training in a profession that allows them to make more money can result in a reduction or termination of the obligor’s alimony payments.

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Proving Changed Circumstances

The spouse who wants to change or terminate payments must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, the following:

  1. A material and substantial change in circumstance has occurred since the divorce decree; and
  2. The identified change is a good enough reason to modify or terminate payments.

A “preponderance of the evidence” means that the change has likely occurred, and modifying the payments is the right decision based on the change. However, the spouse who has not requested the change can provide evidence to show that the change has not occurred, that the change is insignificant, or that a shift in the terms of the alimony agreement would have severe impacts on that spouse.

With the above formula in mind, both spouses, regardless of whether they are paying or receiving, must recognize that not all circumstantial evolutions are considered “changed circumstances” under the law. Common examples of situations that are unlikely to result in a “good enough” reason to modify existing alimony terms include:

  • Economic downturn;
  • New partner or child; and
  • Divorce decree language that waives future alimony.

First, inflation and other forms of economic decline are rarely considered “a change in circumstances.” Even though an economic downturn can heavily impact personal finances, it is unlikely to serve as a reason to modify payments unless a spouse is uniquely and severely impacted by this shift. Job layoffs, a cut in hours or pay, or inability to find new employment in a reasonable amount of time can be convincing reasons why payments should increase, decrease, terminate, or be suspended.

Additionally, learning of a new partner is unlikely a sufficient change in circumstance that will modify alimony payments. These types of situations most often occur when an obligor spouse learns that the obligee spouse has a new partner. For example, if the obligor spouse knows that their ex is seeing someone new, that reason alone is unlikely to be a changed circumstance. However, Texas’s alimony statute contains language that identifies circumstances under which revealing that a new partner is now in the picture might serve as a changed circumstance.

Courts will review a divorce decree’s language when determining whether or how alimony can be modified. If, for example, a divorce decree states that neither spouse is entitled to alimony in the future, judges likely cannot grant new payment terms upon request. This is true even if there is a changed circumstance in either spouse’s life. Other times, a divorce decree might provide specific language that states when and how this form of support can be modified, and courts are generally bound to follow this language.

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Remarriage And Cohabitation

If an obligee spouse remarries, it is presumed that the individuals in the marriage intend to support each other financially. In Texas, a remarriage automatically terminates alimony payments, and the obligor spouse does not need a court order to terminate them.

If the obligor spouse learns that the obligee spouse is living with a new partner, the obligor spouse can potentially use the cohabitation as proof of a changed circumstance. The obligor spouse must still file a motion and prove by a preponderance of the evidence that:

  1. Cohabitation exists; and
  2. Cohabitation is a changed circumstance that justifies the termination of payments.

An obligee spouse who simply moves in with another person is not necessarily a changed circumstance. For example, an ex-spouse who moves in with a friend or roommate to reduce living expenses is not necessarily cohabiting with that person. However, shared living expenses that arise to a material and substantial change in circumstances could result in alimony modification.

Sometimes, divorce decrees will provide guidelines for alimony upon cohabitation of the obligee spouse. This language can make it easier or more difficult for the obligor spouse to reduce or terminate payments.

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Additional Resources

Lone Star State’s Alimony Modification Statute – The Texas alimony modification law outlines what is required to modify alimony, how to pay, and how to enforce alimony terms in the event of nonpayment.

Defining Alimony – Along with its modification statute, Texas law defines alimony, it’s different types, and whether or how long it might be required. A general understanding of the alimony statute can help spouses determine whether a modification is appropriate for their situation.

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Houston Alimony Modification Lawyer | Harris County, TX

If you are divorced and either making alimony payments or receiving alimony from a former spouse, you may have questions about the possible modification of those alimony payments. At Horak Law, attorney Matthew Horak has over 10 years helping in Texas in family law matters and is ready to guide you through the process of pursuing an alimony modification.

If you reside in the Woodlands or Houston, TX, call Horak Law today at (713) 225-8000 to set up your first consultation.

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