One of the most common questions clients or prospective clients ask when discussing alimony and child support obligations is whether those obligations can be modified in the future. Alimony obligations are indeed modifiable upon a substantial change in circumstances. It is the moving party’s burden to show that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred.
The Appellate Division in Cantelme (f/k/a) Archetti v. Archetti recently clarified that a prima facie case of a substantial change in circumstances can be shown in several ways. This includes showing a decrease in the financial resources or income of the supporting spouse, or combination of changes in the part of both parties which together have altered the status quo which existed at the time of the entry of the support order. The latter includes a situation where the supported spouse experiences an increase in income and the supporting spouse experiences a decrease in income.
In deciding whether a modification is proper, a Court must consider several factors including the dependent spouse’s needs, the dependent spouse’s ability to contribute to their own needs, and the supporting spouse’s ability to maintain the dependent spouse at the former standard.
Once the moving party has made a prima facie showing of substantial change in circumstances, the Court may then Order further discovery of both parties’ finances. The Court then determines whether the change in circumstances have “substantially impaired” the moving party’s ability to support themselves. The Court must then decide the ultimate issue of whether the moving party is entitled to relief, or whether the Court should conduct a plenary hearing. A plenary hearing is required only when there are genuine factual issues that are disputed by the parties.
The standard for a modification of child support is altogether different. Where a modification of child support is sought, the guiding principle continues to be the “best interest of the child.”
If you believe that you may be entitled to a modification of an alimony or child support obligation, it is advisable to contact an attorney that specializes in family law to discuss your case.