After the marriage has ended and the divorce has been settled, it can pose an ongoing challenge for the spouse who is obliged to pay alimony or spousal support (obligor) to their former spouse (obligee). When the obligor’s financial situation takes a downward turn, it can become challenging to take care of his or her own household and still afford to make alimony payments. In Tennessee you can modify a court order for spousal support, but there are a few guidelines to follow, and whether or not the alimony order can be modified will depend on what type of alimony is in question.
Which type of alimony awards can be modified?
Of the four types of alimony available in Tennessee, three types may be modified depending on the circumstances of the case:
- Alimony in futuro
- Rehabilitative alimony
- Transitional alimony (only under certain circumstances)
The fourth type of spousal support, alimony in solido, cannot be modified for any reason.
Under Tennessee law, alimony in futuro may be modified as long as there is evidence of a, “substantial and material change of circumstances.” If the obligor can provide proof that the obligee is living with a third person who is contributing to their financial support, or that the third person is receiving support from the alimony recipient, the court may suspend all or part of the obligation of the former spouse.
So, if the former wife has been paying spousal support to his or her former spouse, who then moves their new partner and her child into the household, the court may actually terminate the alimony payments. If, however, the obligor loses his or her job and is forced to take a much lower paying job, this could represent a substantial and material change in circumstances that might cause a court to reduce the amount of alimony paid to the obligee.
Of course, each case is unique and the court gives equal weight to the needs of both the obligee and the obligor when they are deciding whether or not to approve a request for a modification.
Rehabilitative alimony can be modified for a substantial and material change in circumstances as well. The obligee must prove that they have made reasonable effort to become self-sustaining, but those efforts have not been successful. However, just because there is a significant change in the obligee’s circumstances it does not mean that the court will automatically increase support. The obligee must demonstrate that they are doing whatever they can to become and remain self-sufficient. If they are not making any effort in that regard after a reasonable amount of time, the court has some latitude to withdraw rehabilitative support.
Transitional alimony is not modifiable unless both parties agreed in the original divorce decree that it could be modified, the court orders it, the obligee lives with a third person who is contributing to their support, the third person is receiving support from the obligee. If the change in circumstances can be proven, then the court considers again all of the same factors it considers when it initially awarded spousal support
Just as the decision as to whether or not to award spousal support in the first place is complicated, modifications of the original order are just as complex. The services of an experienced Nashville divorce attorney will be helpful in preparing the most compelling case possible.
If you are looking to do a reduction or a modification of alimony or spousal support, we can help. You are welcome to contact our Nashville divorce attorneys at Miller Upshaw Family Law, PLLC to discuss your case.