Termination of Spousal Support
Spousal support is defined as a court-ordered obligation to provide support to a former spouse. Spousal support was formerly called alimony in most states. In some jurisdictions, there may be circumstances of the parties’ marriage or the health of one of the parties that allows spousal support to continue as long as the spouse lives. In other jurisdictions, spousal support continues for a fixed time. However, regardless of the jurisdiction, if the divorce court’s order does not reserve jurisdiction to act after the decree of divorce has been entered, the court may not modify the support obligation.
What is Support?
Support is generally defined as financial assistance for a needy spouse to provide for the necessities of life. In considering the amount of support, a court will consider, among other things: the parties’ prior standard of living; each parties’ needs and health requirements; the income that may be available to provide support, and; the length of time during which a spouse who receives support can re-establish himself or herself as a self-supporting person.
Presumption and Jurisdiction to Modify
A presumption exists that spousal support will not continue indefinitely. To that end, most spousal support orders end at a fixed time, but a court has discretion to determine what kind of support order will be entered and when it will terminate. Unless the court reserves jurisdiction to modify the order, the court may not act, regardless of any changes in circumstances that the parties may encounter.
Changes in Circumstances
If the court has reserved the power to modify a support order, it may only act if there has been an unexpected and significant change in circumstances. Some jurisdictions require the change to be material; others require a substantial change. Generally, the terminology means the same thing–that the economic condition of one or both parties has altered, due to outside forces that were beyond the party’s control, and that the change has had an adverse effect on the ability to earn income. Changes that support a modification, whether an increase, decrease, or termination of spousal support include: death; remarriage of the recipient; job loss; cohabitation (if prohibited under the support order). Because each case is decided on facts that are peculiar to that case, there may be other changes that are so significant that they would support a modification or termination of a spousal support order.
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