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What are the conditions under which a spousal support order can be changed?

Spousal support, also called alimony, is an amount payable on a monthly basis. It is based on several factors including length of marriage, income and (certain allowable) expenses, age, health, education and standard of living of the parties. Once a spousal support amount is put in place, it can be changed only upon a “change in circumstances.” Until the order is changed, it remains in effect and the order must be complied with or there are serious negative consequences.

A spousal support order can take many forms. It could be for a certain time only; or for a certain amount for a certain period of time; or the receiving party could be required to meet certain conditions such as vocational rehabilitation or concrete efforts toward seeking work, etc.

Change in circumstances is usually rather difficult to prove. These include if the paying spouse can demonstrate a significant change in the financial circumstances of one or both spouses, such as the involuntary loss of a job  or an illness or disability that prevents the paying spouse from working or the the remarriage of the supported spouse. If a change is in order, do not wait to file a request with the court to change the existing spousal order. Waiting will cost money and cause grief.

Sometimes people wait because they feel they can negotiate with each other directly, but, believe me, most of the time, it does not yield results. Or they do not want to spend money on attorneys or engage in the legal process again.

Once the request with the court is filed, it locks in the date. The judge, in most cases, sets a spousal support order from the date on which the request is filed with the court. Judges, generally, do not determine spousal orders retroactively.

Noncompliance with the order can lead to a contempt charge and action. Contempt action is quasi-criminal in nature and will result in fine, jail time or both. A disgruntled spouse can wait, pretend to not care, and cause a lot of trouble for you.

When in doubt, you must take timely action and seek legal advice and request the court to make a decision. Do not procrastinate. There is no such time as the present time.

Madan Ahluwalia, Esq. practices Family and Immigration Law in San Jose, CA. He has been a lawyer since 1995. He can be reached at (408) 416-3149.