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Alimony Modification Options During The Financial Uncertainty of COVID-19

Posted by James Judkins | Apr 30, 2020 | 0 Comments

What happens if you are sick with the coronavirus, or out of work, but you still are under an order to pay alimony? You do have options. The smartest thing is to contact your trusted family law attorney. If you are under an existing order to pay alimony to a former spouse you can obtain relief. Certain types of alimony can qualify for a modification- alimony in futuro or rehabilitative alimony. Rehabilitative alimony is monetary support paid to the other spouse who, with reasonable efforts, can achieve an earning potential reasonably comparable to the standard of living during the marriage. If it is not feasible for a person to achieve a similar standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, with reasonable efforts, then a court may grant them alimony in futuro. Alimony in futuro is periodic and a payment of support and maintenance on a long-term basis until remarriage or death. Age, intelligence, health, standard of living during the marriage are all factors a court can consider.

Substantial and material change of circumstances unforeseeable at time of prior order

An individual moving for a reduction or termination of alimony must show substantial and material change of circumstances before the court will grant that petition. Those circumstances must have been unforeseeable at the time the alimony order was entered.  Obviously, we were all blindsided by the coronavirus, unless the person's initial award of alimony was entered in January, then one could argue it might have been foreseeable.

Recipients need versus Payors Ability to Pay

In granting the award of alimony, the court looks mainly at the receiving party's need while considering the obligor's ability to pay. However, the standard is different in modifying alimony because the court has to give both equal considerations. The trial court has the discretion to grant or deny a modification but it must give equal weight to the former spouse's present ability to pay versus the recipient's need. 

Court reduced alimony after payor having a cancerous kidney removed

Perhaps you or your former spouse is suffering the health effects of the coronavirus and it impacts the sick person's financial situation? In one case, Bowman v. Bowman, an ex-husband was under an order to pay alimony, however he lost his job after having a cancerous kidney removed. He filed a petition to reduce support but still had assets to pay his ex-wife, who was the victim of a massive stroke with the same circumstances at the time of divorce. The court found the husband should not have to deplete his assets and own means of support to continue to pay alimony at the present rate. The court modified the alimony from payments of long-term alimony to alimony for one year by payment of a lump sum after the sale of his reality. Bowman v. Bowman, 836 S.W. 2d 563 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1991).

Refusing to continue dangerous work does not in and of itself necessitate a substantial and material change in circumstances

If one finds himself now employed in a potentially high-risk job such as a medical ward on the coronavirus floor that person's fear of exposure may not be a substantial and material change in circumstances. In the case Haup v. Haup, the court of appeals overturned the trial court which reduced the husband's alimony from $1,500.00 to $900.00 per month. Ex-husband was a former army helicopter pilot who left his civilian job of flying aircraft into hostile territory in the Middle East when his rotation increased from 60 to 90 days. He quit because he was ‘tired of being shot at.' The court of appeals found because there was no evidence he did not have the ability to complete a 90-day rotation, then there was no proof of a material change in circumstances. Hauf v. Hauf, W2011-01138-COA-R3-CV. 

Although it is difficult to say what a court would do, it must consider the relevant statutory and case law factors. It is likely a court would consider the coronavirus's impact upon a person's financial situation as an appropriate issue for modification. You should contact your trusted family law attorney if you have any legal questions.

About me

I am Jim Judkins and for a decade family law has been a big part of my practice. Located in the heart of Murfreesboro and in Smithville, Tennessee, I represent clients in family law situations all throughout Tennessee. Helping people successfully through the some of the most turbulent times of their lives gives me a great sense of accomplishment.

Copyrighted 2020 James M. Judkins all rights reserved 

Disclaimer: The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from James M. Judkins, attorney or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this blog without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient's state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

About the Author

James Judkins

About James M. “Jim” Judkins, Attorney at Law Professionalism and Dedication are the hallmarks of my life. Mr. Judkins always wanted to be a litigation attorney. He considers the practice of law his purpose in life and he holds himself to a very high professional and ethical standard. Mr. Judki...


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