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  • Bruce Steinfeld

Georgia Alimony Modification: Change in Income or Financial Status

One of the more complex issues Atlanta family law attorneys and judges must resolve in a divorce is a disparity in the earning capacity of the parties. A spouse may have sacrificed pursuing a career to remain at home to care for the couple's children, or one of them may have dropped out of school to work in order for the other spouse to earn a professional degree leading to a high-paying career. Courts may award alimony to enable one of the parties to secure gainful employment or to acquire the education or skills needed to become self-supporting after the divorce.

Alimony awards may be modified and increased or decreased in the event of a change in the income or financial status of the parties. If you receive or pay alimony, a basic understanding of the law and the process of obtaining a modification based upon a change in income or financial status can help protect your rights.

What is alimony?

Courts in Georgia award alimony or spousal support as part of a divorce. Unlike child support that must be awarded, alimony is within the discretion of the court based upon the need for financial assistance of one spouse and the ability of the other spouse to pay.

A party's misconduct during the marriage may be taken into consideration by a judge in deciding whether to award alimony. Courts may not grant alimony to a party whose adultery or desertion caused the marriage to end.

Courts may award alimony for a specific length of time, which is referred to as temporary alimony. Temporary alimony might be appropriate to support a spouse who needs time to find a job or to acquire the education or skills required to gain employment. Courts usually order the payment of temporary alimony while the divorce action is pending.

Temporary alimony payments end after the length of time specified by the court. In contrast, permanent alimony may last until the death of one or both of the parties. Courts usually reserve permanent alimony for situations in there is no likelihood that the party in need of support will ever be able to be self-supporting. For example, a judge may award permanent alimony when a serious and disabling medical condition makes it impossible for one of the parties to ever be employed.

Factors courts take into account when awarding alimony

Before ordering one of the parties to pay alimony to the other, a judge must take into consideration the standard of living the parties established during the marriage, how long the parties were married, their ages at the time a request for alimony is made, their physical and mental health, and other factors to determine need and ability to pay.

The assistance of an Atlanta family law attorney is essential when requesting alimony. Evidence of the factors judges take into consideration must be properly presented to persuade a court to rule in your favor.

Modifying an alimony order

A change in the financial or income circumstances of the party ordered to pay alimony or the party receiving it allow either of them to ask a court to modify alimony payments. Georgia law does not permit the filing of a petition seeking a modification of alimony within two years of the date of an alimony order. A party filing a petition to modify a prior alimony order may not request another modification for at least two years. No modification may be requested when the alimony awarded was payable in a single, lump-sum rather than as payments made over time.

Situations that may warrant a modification of alimony include:

  • Loss of employment by the party paying support may justify a downward modification.

  • Receipt of a substantial sum of money by the party receiving alimony, such as an inheritance, a personal injury settlement or winning a lottery jackpot, may justify a downward modification or suspension of alimony.

  • Involuntary demotion or salary reduction experienced by the paying spouse may justify a downward modification of alimony.

  • An increase in the income of the paying party through a promotion, new employment opportunity or other reason, may justify an upward modification of alimony.

Filing a petition to modify alimony based upon a change in income or financial status should only be done after obtaining legal advice and representation from an experienced Atlanta family law attorney. The petition must be supported by evidence proving the change of circumstances to avoid it being denied by the court, which prevents you from make a new request for at least two years.

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