Spousal support (called “alimony” or “maintenance” in some states) is reportedly the most difficult issue a family law attorney handles, largely because it is so unpredictable. Now, the uncertain nature of spousal support is getting even more variable.
A survey completed by the American Association of Marital Attorneys Lawyers found that “42% of the group’s divorce attorneys accounted for an ‘unusual’ increase” in modification of spousal support cases.
LegalMatch is seeing this same trend among clients. In new statistics on spousal support released by LegalMatch from 2011 case postings to date, the main reason (49%) clients needed legal help was to establish a spousal support order. But, the second largest group (25%) was made of clients who sought help to make a change in amount of spousal support paid. This is a significant shift from years past at LegalMatch, when the majority of clients needed assistance either collecting payments or terminating payments.
There are multiple ways to explain this new trend. Many have hypothesized that this trend is linked to the economy. Certainly drastic changes in employment and earnings will affect the amount of spousal support a person should pay. This alone might explain the increased rate of modifications to spousal support.
Changes in state law might also be a reason for some of the increases in spousal support modification cases. As the method for calculating spousal support changes, those who pay or receive support are likely to want adjustments in their favor.
For example, Massachusetts has an unusually long period of duration for granting spousal support—up to the lifetime of an ex, even if alimony is paid by the lower-earner. Because of public outrage over seemingly unfair spousal support decisions, Massachusetts is working to modernize their alimony law to take more factors into account when determining appropriate spousal support.
It is easy to imagine a person who had been previously required to pay spousal support for life deciding that it would be a smart idea to hire an attorney to modify the terms of any future payments.
Regardless of what has caused this trend, new laws and changes in life circumstances add complexity to an already challenging issue. And as spousal support becomes increasingly complex, it is essential to have experienced attorneys who can navigate these troubled waters.