Spousal support guidelines typically include a process for making cost of living adjustments so a person who is awarded permanent maintenance will not be forced to continue to live on a set amount of support as inflation and the cost of living increases over time. Every state has different spousal maintenance guidelines and different spousal maintenance cost of living adjustment rules. Some states actually have laws which make a cost of living adjustment part of the order so that every two years (or whatever number of years is mandated by law) the spousal maintenance amount is made higher to match the right of inflation. Other states do not allow cost of living adjustments on spousal support.
Some States Require a Modification Clause in the Initial Order
While it is common for an automatic cost of living adjustment to be set in child support orders, it is far less common for spousal support/maintenance. It is more common now for spousal maintenance to be for a specific amount of time and is usually for a set dollar amount which is not subject to cost-of-living adjustments. Most states do allow a clause in the spousal support language that would allow future adjustments if circumstances change such as a job loss, a winning lottery ticket, or an unfair change in the cost of living. In those state that require a change clause, a spousal support agreement or order missing the clause cannot be modified in the future.
Temporary Support May Be Limited
In a case where a spouse is awarded temporary support with no avenue for a cost of living adjustment, a spouse may be able to go back to court and request a spousal maintenance adjustment. Again, the availability of this process is dependent on the state law of the divorce. When parties move from one state to another, it is common for the state that issued the order to retain jurisdiction for modifications (unless the parties have agreed to be bound by a different state’s jurisdiction or the court has granted a change in venue).
Other Possible Modification Options
A spouse can sometimes file a claim for a cost of living adjustment when he/she can prove that the lack of an adjustment would create an unfair hardship and can also prove that the spouse paying support can afford the adjustment. All factors will need to be proved and may be subject to scrutiny and an expensive court battle. Like everything else in the court system, spouses can agree to a cost of living adjustment outside of court, on their own, or in mediation instead of proceeding to litigation.
Getting Legal Help
State laws do vary on the kinds of options a spouse may have for modifying maintenance. An experienced family law attorney can provide the options available in your state. It is also important to have an attorney review any settlement for spousal maintenance before you sign it to protect your future interests by assuring it has the language needed in the event of a change of circumstances in the future.