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January 12, 2009

Divorce and the Economy, Part 3: Modifying Child Support

Along with the other woes of the current economy, many people's employment has been affected by layoffs or hour and pay reductions. If you're one of those people and you're responsible for paying child or spousal support that is now going to be more difficult to afford, make sure you act quickly to avoid ending up in deep financial trouble.

It is possible to modify child support payments, which are based on the income of both parents as well as the amount of time children spend with each parent. If any factor in that equation changes, you can ask for a change in support as well. First, go directly to your ex-spouse and see whether you can reach an agreement to modify the amount of support being paid, and whether there's anything you can do to make up for the loss of support, like spending some of your newfound free time watching the kids so your spouse can work or save on child care costs.

If your ex doesn't see things the way you do, you may have to ask a court to modify support. Child support guidelines are set by state law and courts don't tend to deviate much from them, so if you're really earning less, you're likely to succeed in getting support changed. (You can check out a free child support calculator for your state to see what your support should be, based on your current income and timeshare.) But the judge will want to know what you're doing to find replacement work and may schedule you to come back to court to show how things are progressing.

Don't delay on this. Child support arrearages are serious business, and if you become delinquent you are at risk of losing your drivers' license, passport, and professional licenses.  

Spousal support is a different story. If you have an obligation to pay alimony, it's likely that your final divorce judgment or settlement agreement defines when that obligation ends. If it doesn't say that losing your job or income is a reason for support to end or change, then generally, you're stuck paying until the obligation is done.

For more, see these FAQs on modifying child support, on child support generally, and on spousal support (alimony).

December 17, 2008

Go to Jail, Lose Your Alimony? A New Definition of Cohabitation

In one of the more bizarre decisions in recent history, an appeals court in Florida has determined that a woman convicted of a crime and imprisoned in a cell with another inmate should have her alimony terminated because she is "cohabiting" with another person.

Technically, that's true, and in fact both the woman and her husband agree that she is cohabiting according to their divorce settlement agreement, which defines the term as "living with another person (not including the parties' child) for a period of 3 (three) consecutive months." However, the trial court in their case found the conclusion that this particular form of cohabitation met the intent of the agreement to be "unthinkably bizarre and at odds with any reasonable interpretation."

The appeals court disagreed, holding that because the woman conceded that the technical definition was met and also because her crime (driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an accident, causing great bodily injury) involved voluntary acts known to bear the risk of incarceration, the interpretation was not absurd. One dissenting judge argued that the happenstence of being assigned a cellmate should not be enough to constitute cohabitation, and I have to throw my lot in with him and the trial judge. It's one thing to stretch the concept of cohabitation to include roommates even when they don't share expenses, but this is another realm of cohabitation entirely.