“Post-Divorce: When Can Alimony be Modified?” by Susan Heikkila

Alimony awards are court-ordered payments from one spouse to the other based on the financial needs and circumstances of both parties. But under what conditions can this payment be modified or changed?

Either party can file an action with the court requesting a modification of alimony. The party seeking a modification of alimony must prove one of the following:

  1. A substantial change in the financial status of either party (O.C.G.A. § 19-6-18.); or
  2. The party receiving alimony is openly and continuously cohabitating with a third party in a sexual or romantic relationship (O.C.G.A. § 19-6-19).

If you are considering filing an alimony modification action, it is important that the you can provide evidence to support your request, for example, evidence of the change in income or financial status or evidence of the romantic cohabitation as required by O.C.G.A. 19-6-19.

In order to prove a party is cohabitating with a third party in a sexual or romantic relationship (commonly known as the “live in lover” law), the paying spouse must show that the receiving spouse is both living with a third party and engaging in a sexual relationship with that third party. This includes proving the receiving spouse actually resides with the third-party, by living at such residence open and continuously (receiving mail, paying utilities, on the lease, etc.), and is engaging in a sexual or romantic relationship with the third-party.

Examples of a change in financial status includes the paying spouse losing a job, a significant, an involuntary reduction in income, or the receiving spouse securing a job with significantly higher pay than at the time of divorce. In order to prove a substantial change in financial status, you may need to show records of your involuntary loss of employment, bank statements, tax filings, or be able to obtain records from the other party showing they are in a substantially better position financially than at the time of the divorce (pay stubs, bank statements, tax filings, etc.).

When considering a modification of alimony, the judge should consider every relevant fact which has an effect on whether the required changes discussed above have truly occurred. Gallant v. Gallant, 223 Ga. 397 (1967). For instance, if you are showing a reduction in pay or loss of employment, the judge would need to consider the circumstances of these conditions, and whether they happened on an involuntary basis.

Additionally, because the relevant statutory law concerning the modification of alimony allows alimony to be modified based on a change in the income and financial status of either spouse, the financial status of the recipient spouse may be taken into account as well to determine if a modification of alimony is necessary. See O.C.G.A. §19-6-19.

Remember that alimony awards are court-ordered payments, so it’s important to pay exactly as the order directs, even if you think you qualify for a modification. Failure to pay alimony can result in a finding of contempt, fines, penalties, liens on property, or jail.

If you believe you qualify for a modification of alimony based on any of the above, it’s important to consult with an attorney before exercising self-help or getting behind on these payments.