Can I Modify My Alimony Obligation Without a Substantial Change in Circumstances?

Legal scales and gavel on a wood table in front of a wall of law books.

With over 400,000 individuals paying alimony each year, it is not uncommon to hear the question, when can these payments be modified. Alimony payments can be a significant financial burden and it is common for circumstances to change from the date of your divorce to present, that make the initial alimony award inapplicable. Therefore, it is important to contact an experienced alimony attorney to discuss the manner and methods in which alimony obligations can be modified including the grounds that do not involve the notorious term of “substantial change in circumstances.”

There are four different types of alimony awards that are provided for after the conclusion of a divorce; Bridge the Gap, Rehabilitative, Durational, and Permanent. There is one other form of alimony known as Temporary or Pendente Lite, however; it is only awarded during the pendency of the proceedings and terminates upon conclusion of your divorce. Therefore, when seeking a modification, you will first determine which of the four classifications you are obligated to as some have unique circumstances regarding specific grounds for modification.

An overarching rule regarding all forms of alimony is that every alimony obligation will terminate upon the death of either party, or marriage of the recipient spouse. Therefore, if your former partner passes or remarries, you will not need to seek a court modification. Instead, your alimony obligation will terminate upon the date of death or marriage. However, keep in mind that you may still be held responsible for past due alimony payments if you fell behind on your obligation.

If your alimony obligation is labeled as Bridge the Gap, Florida Statute 61.08 provides that “an award of bridge-the-gap alimony shall not be modifiable in amount or duration.” Because bridge the gap alimony is only awarded in cases where there are “legitimate identifiable short-term needs” the legislature prohibits modification as these needs are temporary and have identified and are highly unlikely to change during the short term of the alimony obligation.

Outside of a substantial change in circumstances, there is another ground for modification of a rehabilitative alimony obligation. This includes, noncompliance with the rehabilitative plan. Rehabilitative alimony is awarded in cases where a spouse is in need of financial support in order to seek an education, development of skills, credentials, training, or experience to later establish a self-supporting career. With every rehabilitative award “there must be a specific and defined rehabilitative plan” that provides the steps the recipient spouse must adhere to. Failure to follow this plan can provide grounds for modification or even termination of the rehabilitative alimony award as the purpose of the financial assistance would be frustrated by the noncompliance, therefore; removing the need of the alimony.

Although durational alimony awards may be modified upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances, this modification may only apply to the amount of the award and not the duration. Instead, “the length of an award of durational alimony may not be modified except under exceptional circumstances and may not exceed the length of the marriage.” Therefore, durational alimony may be modified by substantial change or exceptional circumstances depending upon your approach of modification.

Finally, if you are obligated by a Permanent alimony award, there are no extra grounds provided in statute outside of a substantial change in circumstances.

Because rehabilitative, durational, and permanent alimony may all be modified based upon a substantial change in circumstances, it is the most common method in which an obligated party seeks modification. Therefore, it is important to understand what events meet this ambiguous threshold of substantial change. (If you wish to receive more information on this standard, we encourage you to read the subsequent post which discusses this in detail.)

Although modifications of alimony awards can be difficult to obtain, when you are fully informed and have a strong legal team, found in your attorney, you will be establishing solid ground to begin your action. Contact your lawyer today to discuss your options with regard to modifying your current alimony obligation.

Speaking to an attorney at our Pensacola office is free of charge, and we accept calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contact us at (800) 822-5170 or complete an online contact form to get in touch with a member of our team today.

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