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First Wives World received an inquiry from a reader who we’ll call “Paula” asking for help with her alimony dilemma. Her issues may apply to many of our readers, so as a non-practicing attorney and now a FWW blogger, I thought I’d offer some guidance.

The background: Paula’s husband left the marriage for a younger woman and asked for a divorce. She was served with divorce papers which didn’t provide for any support even though she had just been downsized out of her job and was living on unemployment compensation.

Paula asked her ex for some support and both agreed on a sum. But when her ex asked for how long, she said, “a few years.” First red flag: Her response wasn’t specific enough but her ex had his attorney revise the divorce papers to include alimony.

Paula’s new divorce papers provided for alimony for the rest of her life unless she remarried. Both she and her ex signed the papers and the divorce became final in a matter of weeks. She received certified copies of the paper work including the alimony agreement.

But Paula’s ex discovers the alimony “error” and informs her that he will only provide alimony for “two years.”

Issue: What should Paula do when her ex stops the payments? Alimony questions are very common, but this one is a bit different. Also take into account that we may not have all the facts.

1. This alimony agreement is similar to any contract where both parties signed. We’re assuming that the agreement was incorporated into the divorce decree. Only a court can alter this agreement.

2. Your ex can’t unilaterally change the terms of the agreement. Only a judge can review the agreement and change it if circumstances warrant a change.

3. Alimony can be modified if the court finds changed circumstances of the payor (your ex) or the recipient, (Paula). The burden is on the person seeking the change.

4. Changed circumstances can include an increase or decrease in the income of either party. Other factors could include length of marriage, wrongful conduct, age, health and employability of the recipient. Here, it’s not about the amount of the alimony but rather, the length of time it will be provided.

Conclusion: I don’t believe Paula was under any obligation to question the “life-time alimony.” Her ex could have changed his mind and made a generous gesture. It’s not clear that he has paid alimony for two years yet. We also don’t know the length of the marriage, but there were no children.

I think Paula should get an attorney and attempt to enforce this agreement or to ensure that she receives alimony for a stated period of time. She should feel free to write again if she has more facts to disclose.

Don’t give up. And good luck!

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1 comment

  • Comment Link JW Monday, 06 September 2010 19:13 posted by JW

    Pertinent: I am going to seek a divorce and want to ask for alimony. This marriage will have lasted over 21 years at this point. I make a lot less money and am in a faltering industry. Was wondering what a 'reasonable' length of time is for this extra support.