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Economic Hardship and Spousal Support

Economic Hardship and Spousal Support

In a companion blog post, we provide recommendations for dealing with the effects of the corona virus crisis on child support obligations during this period of intense economic uncertainty. Even with child support, because our legal system has never before dealt with a crisis of this type and magnitude, we can rely only on the letter of the law and our attorneys’ combined decades of experience to provide our best advice on how to proceed. Because most alimony (or “spousal support”) obligations are governed by the terms of separation agreements, our recommendations regarding how to deal with the impact of the current crisis on alimony obligations would in most cases depend on what your specific agreement says about the circumstances – if any – under which spousal support can be reduced. In making our recommendations, we consider a variety of scenarios.

Court-Ordered Spousal Support.

If a court has ordered you or your former spouse to pay alimony, state law would govern the circumstances under which alimony can be reduced or eliminated. In the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, a court could order a reduction or elimination of court-ordered alimony. The issue would be whether the paying spouse can prove to the court that he or she has suffered a significant change in financial circumstances and can no longer realistically pay the amount ordered. You should discuss how this standard is enforced with your attorney.

In both instances efforts should be made to negotiate a modification with your former spouse. If you are not successful, then you should discuss with your attorney the possibility of filing an appropriate motion with the Court. Also as with child support, if your former spouse reduces or stops paying alimony on his or her own, you should contact your lawyer. As a first step, we would try to negotiate with your spouse or his or her lawyer for the resumption of payment or a plan for reduced or deferred payment, consistent with your needs and consent.

If you were successful, your attorney would submit a consent order to the court, which would supersede the prior court order. If negotiation were unsuccessful, your attorney would file in court, with the understanding that courts in this area are delaying hearings on most matters for months. Going the route of litigation is time-consuming and potentially costly; as with motions for enforcement of child support orders, the real benefit to filing such a motion could be to provide an incentive for the other spouse to try to negotiate an alternate payment plan.

Agreements Requiring Payment of Spousal Support.

The vast majority of former spouses who pay alimony do so because they signed an agreement providing for the payment of alimony. The conditions under which those payments may be reduced or eliminated will likely be set forth in their written agreement. You should consult your attorney in this instance before taking any action. Agreements can address modification of alimony in a variety of ways, and your attorney can advise you on how to proceed based on the provisions in your agreement. We at KSFM are ready to work with you toward a resolution that best protects your rights and interests.

Tax Consequences of Alimony Modification.

There may be tax considerations involved in modifying alimony. Before you make any changes, you should consult your attorney. We at KSFM are ready to help you navigate these and other complex issues.

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