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Can I Contest an Alimony Settlement?


One of the most difficult aspects of a divorce concerns spousal support agreements, which can end in alimony settlement disputes.  However, this agreement is part of a divorce decree and it becomes law the moment the judge grants the divorce petition.  Rarely is anyone completely happy, and that can result in an alimony settlement dispute.  The best time to mount your alimony settlement dispute is in the negotiation stage, before the divorce is granted.  At that point, you should have a divorce lawyer help you understand and/or establish the terms of your divorce settlement and preclude alimony settlement disputes before they begin.

Alimony Settlement Options
When you are negotiating a divorce agreement, you must understand the four types of alimony:

  • Temporary alimony is generally in effect during the divorce proceedings.  It can lead to the final terms of alimony in the divorce, but that is not a requirement.  If appropriate agreements are not reached at this point, they may result in alimony settlement disputes later on.
  • Permanent alimony is awarded to a spouse that is either ill equipped or physically unable to support himself in a manner similar to those in his marriage.  These spousal support payments usually last until the death of the payor, the death or the receiver, or the remarriage of the receiver.  To avoid alimony settlement disputes, it is wise to build review timetables into the agreement to enable adjustments for changing alimony or ending spousal support in the future.
  • Reimbursement alimony helps a spouse regain some of the support they gave to their partner while they pursued higher education, post-graduate degrees, or a well-paying profession.  Again, precluding alimony settlement disputes can be facilitated by establishing a timetable in the original agreement for changing alimony or ending spousal support.
  • Rehabilitative alimony helps a previously nonwage-earning spouse to receive training, education, or experience in order to become independent.  The agreement should establish a set of conditions or a period for ending spousal support or changing alimony under this part of the agreement.

There are often guidelines that alimony lawyers or divorce lawyers and judges use to determine which type of alimony to award, but most divorce lawyers will negotiate to meet the needs of his client and avoid alimony settlement disputes.  Make your needs clear to your divorce lawyer at the time of this negotiation in order to avoid such an alimony settlement dispute later, which can result in ending spousal support or changing alimony against your wishes. This may result in conflict during the divorce proceedings; but it is better to solve any alimony settlement disputes before they are decreed by a judge than to attempt at changing alimony requirements or ending spousal support later. 

Changing Alimony Settlements
A process by which a spouse can go about solving alimony settlement disputes is available.  If he or his spouse has experienced a significant change in circumstances, they can petition the court to modify the alimony agreement.  In some cases, the goal may be ending spousal support altogether.  In others, where there is an alimony settlement dispute, it may mean changing alimony requirements to reflect the new circumstances.  In either case a divorce lawyer can help argue your case with the courts.

  • If a receiver has significantly increased his or her ability to support themselves, the judge may determine that changing alimony payments is the correct solution.  He may also decide that ending spousal support is called for.
  • If an alimony settlement dispute arises over the cost of living, the receiver may petition that changing alimony payments to reflect the higher cost of living is necessary.  If the cost of living goes down, the payor may petition that ending spousal support is called for.
  • If an alimony settlement dispute arises over the payor’s ability to support himself and his spouse, the judge may consider changing alimony to a lower amount or ending spousal support entirely.
  • If either the payor or receiver suffers a temporary setback due to illness or job loss, the judge may decide that changing alimony for a specific, predetermined period, is the solution.  Rarely will he decide in this situation that ending spousal support is necessary.
  • If a spouse’s rehabilitative spousal support needs have been met, a judge may determine that changing alimony to a smaller amount or ending spousal support completely are appropriate.
  • If the reimbursement alimony parameters have been partially or completely satisfied, the judge may rule that changing alimony payments or ending spousal support are called for.
  • If one spouse files to modify an alimony settlement agreement and the other wishes to dispute it, he generally must hire a lawyer to argue the case in court or argue it himself  to prevent the spouse and judge from changing alimony or ending spousal support.
  • If your spouse lied or falsified evidence and received a divorce decree that you did not sign or have a chance to dispute, you should hire a lawyer to appeal the case.  You may be able to get a new agreement changing alimony and even ending spousal support if you are paying it unjustly.

The key to each of these alimony settlement disputes is to have evidence that the situation has changed since the original settlement agreement was reached, showing the alimony settlement dispute and changing alimony or ending spousal support are justified.

Unacceptable Alimony Settlement Disputes
In most cases, alimony settlement disputes cannot be addressed in divorce court and handled by a divorce lawyer.  Once a divorce decree is handed down by a judge, it is considered final.  In a very few cases, there may be a short window of time in which you can appeal the decision, but most appellate courts are unwilling to reopen a case unless the circumstances under which the settlement was reached have changed.  For example, even if you desire to petition the court to address an alimony settlement dispute because you were under duress during the original negotiations or hearing, unless you can prove extreme duress, the court will not consider changing alimony or ending spousal support.

Even if one spouse violates the alimony settlement, the judge will determine penalties for violating the original order, but he cannot decide that changing alimony or ending spousal support are viable options.

If spouses are in an alimony settlement dispute and determine that the original agreement is no longer appropriate for them, they can ask the court to modify the original settlement to their new agreement, but the judge will rarely decide that ending spousal support or changing alimony are possible.

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