Spousal support may be awarded in the event of a divorce if there is a significant income or earning-potential discrepancy among spouses. For example, if one spouse has been a stay-at-home spouse over the course of a marriage, that spouse may not earn as much as the other spouse, nor may she have the potential to do so. Spousal support may be awarded on either a temporary basis, to allow for one spouse to have time to build up her ability to earn a living, or it may be awarded on a permanent basis if the income disparity is going to persist (such as due to a medical condition preventing one spouse from earning a living). When spousal support is awarded, that order may sometimes need to be modified or increased after the divorce.
Increasing Spousal Support after a Divorce
There are a few different ways in which you may increase spousal support after a divorce:
- Spousal support may increase automatically: This can occur if the original support order had a clause allowing for increases do to cost of living (often called a cost of living adjustment or COLA). This can also occur if the original support order had a clause that guaranteed if one spouse's income went up, his or her support payments would also go up.
- Spousal support may increase if both spouses agree to it and petition the court. For example, if you need an increase in spousal support and your spouse okays the increase, you can both petition the court together to put that agreement you two have come to in writing and make it legally binding. The judge will generally sign off on this quickly and easily if you both agree.
- You can request a change in the support order from the court if you believe an increase is warranted and your spouse does not agree. This can be more difficult to do, as you will need to convince the court that there is a good reason for increasing the original support order.
Material Change in Circumstance
If you are trying to convince the court to raise your support payments without the other spouse's agreement, you generally will need to file a petition with the court and you will need to prove a material change in circumstances occurred. This means proving that something changed that should result in you getting more money. There are a few things that fall into that category including:
- The income of the person paying support increases significantly and/or her obligations decrease significantly. Spousal support orders are based on the income and obligations of the person who is paying it and the need of the receiver. If the income of the payor goes way up, the court may order additional spousal support.
- The needs of the person receiving support increases significantly. This is the other side of the coin in terms of how support payments are calculated. If you are receiving support and your need goes up, then this may constitute a material change that results in the need for support going up as well. For example, if you become disabled and unable to work, face large medical bills, must stop work to care for an ill child, or face some other financial crisis, an increase in support may be in order.
Spousal support order modifications may be permanent or temporary, depending on the circumstances that led to the court's granting of increased support. It will generally be the burden of the person requesting the change to prove why the change is necessary.
Getting Legal Help
If you need an increase in your spousal support payments, it is in your best interests to get legal help. A qualified attorney can assist you in negotiating an out-of-court agreement with your spouse, or in petitioning the court and convincing them of a need to make a change.