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When Can my Alimony Be Modified?

If you’ve been through a divorce and are paying or receiving alimony, you can ask the court to change either the amount of the alimony or the duration of payments. Courts in Massachusetts typically grant alimony modification under one of two primary conditions:

Circumstances used to determine alimony have changed. For example, if the financial situation of either party has changed significantly, if one of the individuals has died or if the alimony recipient remarries or moves in with a partner, a court may modify alimony.

Alimony was determined before changes to state law in 2012 and the order requires payment for a longer term than the new law requires. The new Massachusetts law set up four categories of alimony and added consideration of the length of a marriage in the duration of required alimony payment.

Filing for an Alimony Modification

Either party in an alimony case — the person paying or the person receiving payments — can request that the court modify the existing ruling. In a modification, the individual requesting the change is the plaintiff, and the other party is the defendant. If both parties agree to the need for a change in alimony, they can file a joint petition to the court. An attorney can assist with filing the appropriate paperwork.

When the two parties do not agree on modifying alimony, different filings are required with the court. In this case, the plaintiff files a complaint for modification of alimony. If the requested modification includes the amount of alimony paid, the plaintiff also must file a financial statement with the court. Filing for an alimony modification must occur in the county in which the alimony originally was determined and is typically in the county in which a couple divorced.

Time Limits for an Alimony Modification

The 2012 change to Massachusetts law meant that some alimony judgments require individuals to pay for longer than the updated law requires. Affected individuals may file requests for changes according to the following timetable:

  • Marriage lasting five years or less: Modification may be filed after March 1, 2013.
  • Marriage lasting five to 10 years: Modification may be filed after March 1, 2014.
  • Marriage lasting 10 to 15 years: Modification may be filed after March 1, 2015.
  • Marriage lasting 15-20 years: Modification may be filed after Sept. 1, 2015.
  • Marriage lasting more than 20 years: Modification may be filed at retirement age.

What Happens After a Modification Request

If you file a complaint requesting an alimony modification, you will receive a completed summons that you must ensure is appropriately delivered to the other party. If the relationship is amicable, the former spouse may agree to simply sign the summons with a notary public present, and you can return the signed form to the court. If the other party likely will object to the alimony modification, you will need to have a law enforcement officer in your county serve the summons to the individual; your qualified alimony attorney can assist you with ensuring that the summons is served correctly.

After the summons has been served, the other party has 20 days to file documents answering the request for alimony modification. Your attorney will then assist you in requesting a court date, and you’ll request an uncontested trial if the other party does not file an answer to the modification request. If the individual does file an answer, your attorney will request a pre-trial conference to explain to the court the issues factoring into the modification request.

If the other party in your case requests the alimony modification, you may not know about the request until a sheriff or constable serves you with court papers. In this situation, you’re the defendant and will have 20 days to file a response.

How the Court Makes its Determination

The court will review all the information presented to determine whether a significant change in one party’s ability to pay — or the other party’s need for the payments — has occurred. Considerations that factor into a possible alimony modification can include:

  • Changes in income, such as a job loss.
  • A serious illness or injury affecting a party’s ability to work.
  • The alimony recipient remarrying or living with a partner for a minimum of three months.
  • The death of either party.
  • An alimony order that indicates a longer payment period than required under current law.
  • Attainment of retirement age by the person making alimony payments.

If you are responsible for paying alimony and are asking for a reduction in the amount or duration, you must continue to pay the amount specified in your current order until the court changes the order. Even if you lose your job or are ill or injured, you must continue paying until the court rules otherwise.

Contact an Experienced Family Law Attorney

If your income or other circumstances have changed and you feel that you may be entitled to an alimony modification, contact the experienced attorneys at Infinity Law group to schedule a free consultation.