If you lose your job, become disabled, are forced to take a pay cut, or experience some other major change in your life, you may be wondering how it will affect your child support or alimony/maintenance obligations. At the time of your divorce, you probably signed a settlement agreement, or received a final decree from the court, which outlines the amount and duration of your payments. Despite the finality of these decisions, the courts recognize that things change. While you can’t run back to court for a trivial reason, a significant change in circumstances may warrant a post-decree modification.
The first thing to do is consult with an attorney who has experience in post-decree divorce issues. They will be able to explain your options based on your individual circumstances. You need to file paperwork with the court requesting modification as soon as possible, because until a modification is approved, you must continue to pay.
The main question in post-decree modification is whether your change in circumstances is significant. Losing your job does not automatically excuse you from making spousal maintenance or child support payments. The court will look at your individual situation and determine whether the change in your income/circumstances warrants a modification. Remember, you are obligated to make support payments until the judge tells you otherwise.
If you are paying maintenance/alimony to your former spouse and they get remarried, start earning more money, or receive a large inheritance, the court may lower your payment. If you become disabled or lose your job, your child support may be reduced. If your child support payments are reduced, you will not be reimbursed for what you previously paid; a decrease is not retroactive. However, an increase may be retroactive. If you have another child, it generally will not affect the support you pay for your other children.
If your written agreement says that payments are non-modifiable, you will have a harder time. However, it may still be possible to get some form of relief from payments you simply can’t make because of job loss or some other unavoidable obstacle.
Other issues that may bring the parties of a divorce back to court include seeking a change in custody or visitation, one parent moving out of state, or enforcement of custody, maintenance/alimony or child support orders. Property division is usually final. The court generally does not redistribute property that was divided by the court or by mutual agreement.