Modification of Spousal Support – Part 1 (a few thoughts)

Though my girlfriend might be insulted to discover that my attention can, in fact, be diverted from the madness of college hoops in March, that’s exactly what happened last Saturday as I watched A.J. Price drain his forth 3-pointer of the game, sealing yet another Final Four berth for the Huskies. Let me clarify. First, though the Huskies of Washington put forth a valiant effort this year, I’m a UCONN man, so I’m talking about the Connecticut Huskies. Second, my attention was only diverted after UCONN took an insurmountable lead. Nevertheless, the clock was still ticking, and instead of watching the screen, I found myself staring at my french fries, contemplating something that I had just overheard at the table next to mine.

“I don’t know what to do… I won’t be able to make my spousal support payment this month… I feel horrible.” The man who spoke these words was well-dressed, middle-aged and an obvious sports fan. By all accounts, he was a “regular guy.” This does not surprise me, because if there is one near constant among family law matters it is this: folks don’t like paying spousal support.


The payment of any monthly obligation can be tedious; keeping up with consumer obligations (paying high interest credit cards), or even providing for more basic needs (paying the mortgage), is a dreary process which is constantly eating away at our disposable income. Nevertheless, whereas we have presumably derived some benefit from accruing consumer debt (e.g., the purchase of new clothes, an automobile, vacation, etc), and whereas we derive current and future benefits by making our monthly mortgage payment, there does not appear to be any comparable benefit derived from the payment of spousal support. This seemingly thankless obligation, coupled with the probability that the person to whom this obligation is owed is often someone who we may not particularly like very much, can make the payment of spousal support particularly loathsome.

And so this is exactly what struck me about the comment made by this “regular guy.” I got to thinking that, perhaps, for some, once the obligation to pay support has “sunk in”, and after the pain and hurt feelings associated with divorce have passed, the payment of spousal support may appear different to the person paying it then it once did. Perhaps the notion of helping out a former (or maybe even a current) loved one starts to feel pretty good.

The economy is clearly in bad shape and the downturn has affected everyone. While many companies are trying to avoid lay-offs by reducing employee salaries, other employers are having to take more drastic measures. For some, this means lay-offs and severance packages. For others, it means unemployment checks. Whatever the situation, for many, the economic downturn means a decrease in income.

Please continue to parts 2 and 3 of this post:  Part 2 (; Part 3 (

About Jon Berman

Born in Connecticut, Jon is a graduate of Columbia University where he majored in Political Science. After working for several years on Wall Street, he went on to the University of Connecticut School of Law where he graduated near the top of his class. Prior to joining the firm, Jon practiced family law at the Washington County office of St. Andrew Legal Clinic.To find out more or contact Jon Berman, visit Stephens & Margolin LLP
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5 Responses to Modification of Spousal Support – Part 1 (a few thoughts)

  1. Nick Christmas III says:

    I divorced in 1997 a 30 year marriage. My spouse was awarded 1,000 a month indefinitely or until modified by the court plus 47% of CSRS retirement. I retired Jan 2009 (41 years of service). She receives $1,700 a month and I recently divorced after a 10 marriage and have 2 children. I can no longer afford the 1,000 a month plus th $1,700 a month. I’m almost $10,ooo in arrears and need to stop the spousal support immediately. I haven’t a lot for attorney’s fees. Is there something I can do to modify the support without running up a large legal bill? I owe $6, 000 in legal fees from my second divorce. I’m on a fixed income and suffering to pay child support and meet the necessities. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks Much!

    • admin says:

      Nick: You should talk to an experienced family law lawyer ASAP. The court can only modify support back to the date you request and serve the modification, so the arrears will continue to climb unless you take some action.

  2. Pingback: Modifying Spousal Support | THE OREGON DIVORCE BLOG

  3. Deborah Zulauf says:

    Re: Modification/extension of Spousal Support.
    My ex-husband and I were married and divorced in WA.
    Our parenting plan stipulated that our daughter would spend alternate weeks with us.
    I was awarded $1500/mo for child support and $3500/mo for spousal support, to end when our daughter turned 18, which is June 1st.
    When we all moved to OR, he transferred jurisdiction to OR.
    I am a teacher. I stopped teaching when our daughter was born.
    In Bend many teachers are out of work, it’s even difficult to get a job as a substitute.
    In addition, I require further coursework to get OR certification as there is no reciprocity with WA.
    My ex is a radiologist.
    Would it be reasonable to ask for a continuation of support?
    Thank you

    • admin says:

      It is almost impossible to determine wether a modificaiton of a support award is modifiable without a close read of the judgment that created the award. It is important to note that a party cannot ask for an extension/modification of a support award after the obligation to pay the award has ended. In order to extend an award of support, the party asking for the extension must show that there has been a substantial and unanticipated change in circumstances since the award was ordered. It is unclear, based upon your stated facts, whether this has occurred in your case. I suggest that you have a consultation with a qualified attorney.

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