If you are seeking spousal support or alimony, or you are going to be ordered to pay it, then it will be important to have evidence of the payor’s (person paying alimony) financial circumstances. Obviously, a court will need this information to establish the amount to be paid, but often alimony payments can be agreed to in a marital settlement agreement without the need for court intervention. In either case, you should always detail the financial circumstances of both parties in your divorce decree or settlement agreement. You should also be prepared to offer evidence of these financial circumstances in the future. This information will be critical if you or your former spouse ever move to have the alimony payments changed – whether to increase, decrease or terminate them altogether. The Virginia appellate court case of Barnes v. Barnes demonstrates why evidence of financial circumstances is so important.
In the Barnes case, the husband and wife were married in 1981 and decided to get a divorce 10 years later in 1991. When deciding the amount of alimony to be paid, the court awarded the wife $1,200 per month because she had an extreme need for support. At the time, the wife was only earning $140 per month in income and the husband was earning $7,700 per month.
A few years later, the former husband moved to modify the spousal support payments to a lower amount. Since the time of the last hearing, the husband had developed dementia and serious heart problems. His health issues cost him his job and forced him to hire a full-time live-in caretaker. At the time he sought a modification of spousal support, the husband was only earning $1,242 per month from his annuities and $2,202 from social security payments.
At the hearing upon the former husband’s motion to modify the alimony payments, his health issues prevented the husband from being able to testify. For this reason, the husband’s attorney offered evidence of the husband’s current financial situation through the testimony of his caretaker and former business partner. However, the husband’s attorney failed to offer any evidence of the husband’s financial situation in 1991 when the couple got divorced. Accordingly, the trial court was unable to determine whether there had been a substantial change in the husband’s financial situation since the time of the divorce. Therefore, the trial judge granted the former wife’s motion to strike the husband’s evidence of his current financial situation. The judge also refused to take judicial notice of a court opinion that allegedly addressed the husband’s financial situation in 1991.
On appeal, the Court upheld the trial court’s decision not to take judicial notice of the opinion containing the former husband’s financial circumstances in 1991. Citing relevant case law, the Court stated that trial courts could not take judicial notice of records and judgments in other and different cases, even if the cases are between the same parties.
The Barnes decision illustrates why it is so important to have someone testify as to the financial circumstances of the payor since the original support order was entered. If this is not possible, then you should always have some hard evidence that shows the same, like an authenticated copy of the most recent support order, which shows the payor’s financial circumstances.
If you are dealing with issues surrounding alimony or a modification of spousal support payments, you need the help of a qualified family law attorney who knows the law in your jurisdiction. Whether you are seeking support payments for the first time or wish to change the amount you are paying or receiving, you should consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. The family lawyers at the DiPietro Family Law Group have years of experience handling divorce and spousal support cases in jurisdictions across Northern Virginia and Washington, DC. Contact us to schedule a consultation today at (888) 530-4374.