When you retire, household income usually drops significantly. Does that mean you can stop paying alimony or pay less in spousal support?
That may be the result, but it won’t happen automatically. You need a court-approved modification to change alimony, even if your former spouse agrees to a different arrangement. Making any changes without approval from the court puts you at risk.
Modifying Spousal Support
Either a spouse paying support or a spouse receiving payments has the right to ask the court to change support payments. Generally, the party seeking the change must show a “material change” in the parties’ circumstances justifying a modification.
Not long ago, Virginia lawmakers amended alimony laws to specify that reaching “full retirement age” constitutes a material change in circumstances that could warrant a modification of child support. The age of full retirement is tied to the age set by the Social Security Administration for eligibility for full retirement benefits. Reaching an age that qualifies for “early retirement” does not count.
When a Modification is Based on Retirement
When code amendments made retirement age a circumstance that could justify a change in spousal support, lawmakers included six factors the court should consider before making a determination:
- Whether the court specifically considered retirement when the award was made
- Whether retirement is voluntary or mandatory, and the retirement terms
- Whether retirement changes the income of either the payor or the payee
- Age and health of both parties
- Amount and duration of alimony already paid
- Assets of each party from the time of the support order to the present
In addition, courts are allowed to consider additional factors, including those described in the statutes governing the initial award of spousal support.
Does Your Support Order Allow Modifications?
You can only modify the terms of alimony based on retirement if the agreement allows modifications. At the same time, the legislature made retirement a grounds for modification, they also instituted a presumption in favor of adaptability. If an agreement regarding alimony says nothing about modification, then the law allows for modification.
However, an agreement may specify that it is non-modifiable. If that language is included, even a drastic change in income due to unexpected retirement would not provide grounds for a change in obligations.
Cohabitation Can Provide Grounds for Termination
Remarriage of the payee still provides grounds for termination of spousal support, as does the death of either the payor or the payee.
If the spouse receiving support has been “habitually cohabitating” with someone in “a relationship analogous to a marriage” for at least a year, then the paying spouse can ask the court to terminate support.
Don’t Make Changes Without a Modification Order
After parties have been divorced for some time, they may feel comfortable modifying alimony arrangements on their own outside of court. They might even draw up a contract to “formalize” their negotiations.
However, when alimony is based on a court order, it takes another court order to make a legal change. If parties operate under their own modified agreement and then one decides they want to go back to the old arrangement, they can seek any additional funds they would be owed under the original support order.
To protect your rights, talk to an experienced family law attorney at DiPietro Law Group, PLLC about the most efficient way to get your spousal support order modified with court approval.