Requesting Maintenance or Alimony Modifications After Divorce
Over the years working as a divorce attorney, family lawyer, and certified mediator in the state of New York, Mr. Shapiro has found himself dealing with a range of different cases and requests from clients. One common concern that divorcing spouses have, is whether they will be able to adjust maintenance or alimony orders after they have been submitted and a divorce is finalized. If the parties agree, most things are possible such as modifications. If there is not an agreement, then one important thing to remember is, although maintenance modifications are possible, certain circumstances must be in place for those requests to be considered by the court. In other words, an ex-spouse can't just request a change to maintenance or alimony because they aren't happy with the first award that was given.
Mr. Shapiro has seen instances wherein ex-spouses have requested modifications without the necessary proof to show that such an alteration is necessary. In these cases, if no proof is available to show that the plaintiff is experiencing financial hardship, or indicate that aspects of their assets, income, or job are different, then the court will see no reason to hold a hearing regarding a change to maintenance. According to the Domestic Relations law of New York, if a party wants to modify a maintenance obligation set forth by a stipulation that wasn't merged into the judgment of the divorce, then that party is responsible for showing some manner of change in their circumstances substantial enough to warrant a modification. One of the issues that can be considered by the courts as a reason for modification is extreme hardship.
In the process of a divorce, people can often alter the default law in place by using specific language and clauses within the agreements set out between the parties. For instance, if there is no specification within an order to say that maintenance needs to continue should the recipient spouse choose to remarry, them maintenance will end upon a new marriage. However, when an ex-wife or husband asks to modify the amount of alimony awarded, or the duration of the maintenance provided following a divorce, then that person must be able to draw attention to a substantial change in circumstance that requires the New York Courts to examine the maintenance issue again. Though the law indicates that financial hardship can represent a substantial change in circumstances, the truth is that extreme financial hardship must often be shown. In other words, the desire to pay less, or get more money in and of itself is not enough.
When modifications to alimony, or maintenance, are requested, the New York court must consider the changes in circumstances in depth, and examine the scenario of the spouse in question at the specific time of the modification request, in comparison to the situation that the same spouse was in when the original court order was issued. If no evidence regarding a significant change in circumstances has been provided, then the New York Court is not required to hold a hearing on maintenance, as there is nothing to evaluate. Alternatively, if a financial emergency emerges, or a situation occurs which demands financial consideration, such as extreme financial hardship, the New York Court will often be willing to look at the order again.
A situation that might push the court to reconsider maintenance orders may include a financial emergency, such as a risk that one of the parties will become a "public charge", or the sudden presence of huge medical bills that must be paid by the party. In these cases, the court will be able to see why the plaintiff is requesting a reduction of the amount that they have to pay in maintenance, or an increase to the amount that they receive, thereby enhancing the chances that the issue will be reassessed. After all, as Mr. Darren M. Shapiro reminds his clients, if there is nothing to show that circumstances have changed since the previous order was given, then the court will assume that the existing order is fair according to their previous evaluation.
The most important thing to remember about maintenance modifications in divorce is that although any spouse can request a change in maintenance payments, that request may be a waste of time, money, and resources if there is no evidence to suggest that a change should be made. The burden falls with the spouse that requests a modification to provide evidence that changes have taken place which suggests a reconsideration of financial circumstances. The courts of New York are only required to conduct hearings into maintenance modifications when genuine issues of fact are supplied. In other words, a simple complaint that you aren't getting enough money, or you feel you're paying too much won't be enough to change the mind of the court - which has already spent a great deal of time and effort examining your case and coming up with a solution that they deem to be fair.
Remember, when decisions are made regarding support and maintenance, the courts of New York take numerous crucial factors into account, including the current financial circumstances of all parties involved. There is a financial formula in place, at this time, that can be used as a guideline for calculating maintenance awards based on income, though the court will sometimes deviate from those guidelines when specific circumstances are in play - to ensure that the orders given are fair and do not force either party into a situation of extreme financial hardship. While Mr. Shapiro often sees cases wherein spouses believe that they are entitled to better payments from their ex, or someone wants to pay less, the New York courts place strict standards on the things they consider to be "appropriate grounds" for modification of maintenance costs. If the plaintiff is unable to show a change in circumstances or extreme hardship, the Courts will keep the orders the same, in an effort to promote a sense of familiarity with the spouses that allow each of them to move on with their own lives - not worrying about constant changes to payment structures. Decisions to modify maintenance awards are never made lightly.
To learn more about maintenance payments and the issues that are encountered during the divorce procedure, please read through our blogs, or reach out to our principal, Mr. Darren M. Shapiro. You can get in touch either over telephone at 516-333-6555, or fill in our online form to schedule your free half-hour consultation.