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Old 03-09-2009, 03:05 PM   #1
Solitaire
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Adjusting alimony due to economic conditions
Oldtimers will remember me, it's been a while since I've posted. I'm wondering if anyone has any experience with getting alimony reduced in light of the economic conditions, in addition to other change of circumstances.

I read the separate thread on adjusting CS. My kids are emancipated now, but I'm on the hook for permanent alimony. The amount was set at a time when I was working on Wall Street (I was support staff, made good money but not master-of-the-universe money). She had never fully supported herself and argued that she could not work more than the 27 hours a week she was then working because of physical and emotional limitations.

I had good legal advice, we got involved in dueling psychiatric experts regarding the ex's ability to work. I ended up settling after a three-year battle for what I have always thought was too much alimony. I wanted to marry the lovely Ms. Nicki (whom I met through DOL AFTER separating from my ex), Nicki also had a good job, and we decided to look at the alimony as a happiness tax. For eight years I was never late with a payment, even when Nicki and I were both laid off for seven months.

Eighteen months ago I lost my job a second time, and decided to try to make a go of it as an independent consultant. I made decent money for a while, although we were dipping into savings, but then my primary client ran into financial troubles and had to stop working with me. That happened in August 2008, and in September the financial world started to crumble.

I've had very little income since then, certainly not nearly enough to cover my alimony payments, which I have had to stop making. Nicki now has a low-paying job -- she is willing to support me, but is not willing to pay alimony to my ex-wife. Go figure.

Over the years I've spoken to various lawyers about getting alimony lowered. The fact that I had competent legal counsel when I agreed to the amount works strongly against me, and it's too late to argue bad faith regarding the ex's ability to work. (Since the divorce she has managed a store and now is a top salesperson, has bragged about working 60-hour weeks, takes vacations in Europe while Nicki and I vacation in Massachusetts, etc.) The ex has been surprisingly relaxed about not getting her monthly check, although she's recently started to sound more concerned.

It's been close to a year since the last time I formally conferred with a lawyer, but I was told then that the fact I had lost my job was not enough to justify reducing alimony. The burden is on me to demonstrate that I am not able to bring in sufficient income. The lawyer who did my divorce has told me that if I want to pursue a reduction, I'm better off filing by myself rather than paying him, because of the expense and the low probability of success.

I know that normal variations in the business cycle are no basis for adjusting alimony, the expectation is that I should have savings to meet my obligations. But this may be the worst downturn in my lifetime, particularly in my industry, financial services. Does that make a difference? I'm not confident that I will ever again make as much money as I did a few years ago. My 2008 income was about 40% of what I made in 2007, and this year I'm on an even slower pace.

All ideas are welcome, but I'm most interested in any examples of the current economic distress as a factor in efforts, successful or otherwise, to reduce alimony.
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Old 03-09-2009, 03:16 PM   #2
RealTime
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Re: Adjusting alimony due to economic conditions
Solitaire!

A name from antiquity!

File. Maybe you'd get a sympathetic judge. These days, you seldom hear of lifetime alimony.

All the best.
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Old 03-10-2009, 08:14 AM   #3
zuzuzu
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Re: Adjusting alimony due to economic conditions
Hi Solitaire!! I remember meeting you and Nicki at Bayfest back in the late 1990s... wow...

Anyway, I tend to think you should file simple to capture the updated relative incomes of yourself and the ex. I assume the alimony was originally intended to "equalize" earnings disparities between the two of you. Those circumstances are now dramatically different. It seems logical to me that a new court ruling would take into account the current relative income levels.

Of course, logic doesn't always apply but, in this case, I hope that it would!!

Wishing you the very best!!
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Old 03-10-2009, 08:32 AM   #4
2ndWind
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Re: Adjusting alimony due to economic conditions
Quote:
Originally Posted by Solitaire View Post
The fact that I had competent legal counsel when I agreed to the amount works strongly against me, and it's too late to argue bad faith regarding the ex's ability to work.
Why is that? The fact that you had competent legal advice when you finalized your divorce shouldn’t have any bearing on your present situation. Your financial state has drastically changed. So has hers, if she's been working 60 hour weeks recently. I can’t imagine why your spousal support wouldn’t be lowered, if not eliminated. Do states have different rules in regard to spousal support? I don’t know anyone who's awarded lifetime spousal support; in fact I’ve not heard of it since my parents’ generation. When granted, it's usually for half the number of years of the marriage. But I live in CA. I know of three people who had their spousal support payments lowered successfully based on their earnings; one did have to go to court.
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Old 03-10-2009, 10:07 AM   #5
Solitaire
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Re: Adjusting alimony due to economic conditions
Thanks to all for the input and support.

I suspect New Jersey may be the worst state in the country for a high-earning husband seeking a divorce from a low-earning wife. When I was filing, my lawyer told me there is a presumption of lifetime alimony in a marriage of 10 years or longer, if the parties have disparate earning power. I was married 13 years before I moved out, and 16 years before the divorce was final.

Last year I consulted a different attorney, who told me if anything the situation has gotten worse -- he's seen lifetime alimony in marriages as short as 5 years.

2ndWind, the fact that I had competent legal advice is relevant because I agreed to the amount of alimony. If the amount had been set by a judge, or if I had not had competent legal advice, I would have a stronger case for adjusting alimony. In the current circumstance, the burden is entirely on me, and judges are reluctant to alter an agreement negotiated by the lawyers for the parties.
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Old 03-10-2009, 10:09 AM   #6
kara.
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Re: Adjusting alimony due to economic conditions
And what's wrong with Massachusetts?

What do you see as the downside to filing, if you take your former lawyer's advice and file on your own? There is some stress of going to court and dealing with the ex, but you are already under tremendous stress from the current situation. Your sons are now emancipated as you mention, and though with younger kids I do think their feelings regarding court actions should sometimes be taken into account, it doesn't seem like that would be a strong enough factor now to determine your decision. Your current relationships with them are likely to remain status quo without being unduly affected by this action, at least IMO.

Best wishes.
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Old 03-10-2009, 10:41 AM   #7
lizzie
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Re: Adjusting alimony due to economic conditions
I would suggest that you read the statutes for your state and case law. If you've consulted an attorney and that attorney has told you that your chances are minimal, I'd tend to believe it. But do read the statutes and case law.

There is a downside to filing a case yourself, especially since you know your chances of winning are not good. Your ex-wife could request, and would probably receive, her attorney's fees paid by you. And you would have to pay that on top of the alimony.

You can find case law here.

http://lawlibrary.rutgers.edu/search.shtml

There appear to be several cases which are very similar to yours.

Sorry to hear about your situation.

Last edited by lizzie; 03-10-2009 at 11:01 AM..
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Old 03-10-2009, 11:03 AM   #8
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Re: Adjusting alimony due to economic conditions
Ditto, RT. In the economic conditions of the day it is doubtful that an income can be honestly impuned against you, Solitaire, especially considering there are individuals who had 6 and 7 figure incomes last year and have had zip ever since.

p.s. I too remember you.
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Old 03-10-2009, 07:16 PM   #9
2ndWind
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Re: Adjusting alimony due to economic conditions
Quote:
Originally Posted by Solitaire View Post
...the fact that I had competent legal advice is relevant because I agreed to the amount of alimony. If the amount had been set by a judge, or if I had not had competent legal advice, I would have a stronger case for adjusting alimony. In the current circumstance, the burden is entirely on me, and judges are reluctant to alter an agreement negotiated by the lawyers for the parties.
Im really surprised by this. I cant imagine that the fact that you agreed to a particular spousal support figure at one time would be relevant now. You agreed to it because your earnings were higher. They no longer are, nor have they been for a period of time. Your ex is out there earning commissions and a 60-hour a week salary. (If your kids were still minors, I could see it since often inadequate spousal is used as CS.) It just sounds so skewed in her favor. You have tax records to prove your income. In the three cases I know of, two resolved without court, the parties agreed to the reduction; in the one case that a judge ruled on, the party seeking the reduction had to prove his reduction in wages. I take it your ex is not willing to cooperate at all?
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Old 03-10-2009, 07:38 PM   #10
steamy
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Re: Adjusting alimony due to economic conditions
Hey Solitaire,

I am in a prolonged (absurd) court procedure when X objected to an increase in CS when middlethen 18 (now 21) was emancipated. Youngest's CS was almost doubled when they ran his financials, and this was post divorce. Also we are awaiting a ruling on raising my alimony since he was unemployed during the divorce proceedings, and then got a job in line with his former salary after the divorce. We are asking for him to pay for my grad school education. It was years in the court, and the final drafts were delivered to the court June 12 last year. I am in Ohio, we can go for post divorce stuff, however it is very frustrating..especially in this era of uncertainty..

My alimony ends this May...I was married 22 years & 25 was lifetime.... My lawyer advised me to stall, 6 years later I understand why.

Best to you!
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