In Utah family law, alimony is a frequent topic for dispute. Alimony is often viewed from the perspective of the former spouse who is receiving these payments. However, the paying spouse can also face complications and challenges.
This is true for everyone – even those who have achieved a certain level of success in their professional life and earn a good living. Alimony modifications are requested for various reasons, and if the paying former spouse is asked to increase the payments, it is important to understand the available options when formulating a response.
The importance of a material change in circumstances
Technically referred to as a Petition to Modify the Decree of Divorce, when the modification request is made, the court will want to see a material change in circumstances to warrant the modification. It must be significant enough that the change is necessary.
For example, if the receiving spouse previously worked and has now lost their job, that could be a major factor in the modification determination. Medical expenses or retirement are other reasons why the change might be made. This has a domino effect, not just hindering income, but making it difficult to pay bills and facing a difficult financial future. From the viewpoint of the paying spouse, if a business had a major decrease in income, accompanied by other financial struggles – not uncommon given recent events – then that person can ask for the payments to be lowered. Alternatively, the person may use that as a reason to request that the court deny the receiving former spouse’s attempt to modify the payments.
The alternatives to respond and subsequent steps
Once the modification request has been filed, the other person will have 21 days to respond if served in Utah. If served in another state, they will have 30 days. The other person can do one of the following:
- File an answer;
- Agree via stipulation; or
- Not file a response.
When filing an answer within those 21 or 30 days, the person can say they disagree with any aspect of the case. Then, full disclosures must be provided, which includes information regarding finances. The court will assess the details of the case. In certain instances, the dispute is relatively minor, and mediation could be an effective strategy to save time and money, as well as avoid acrimony. With stipulation, the sides will come to a written agreement about the issues of the case.
Some might simply choose not to file a response. If they take this step, the person requesting the modification can subsequently ask for a default judgment, meaning there is a chance that they can be awarded whatever they asked for. The other party is not accorded the opportunity to give their side and must abide by the decision after the fact. It is often unwise to do this.
Professional assistance is key with an alimony modification case
After a divorce has been completed, legal disagreements can unfortunately still come up and send the parties back to the negotiating table or court over modifications. As the last two years have shown, people may find themselves in unexpected straits with a negative impact on their finances.
To address these financial changes, they might ask for an alimony modification. It is not automatically guaranteed that the case will be decided in a specific way, and the modification request could be denied. The person who is already paying alimony could balk at the receiving former spouse asking for more in alimony. Alternatively, there may be a willingness to change the order with specific parameters. No matter what, having assistance is vital, especially for the person who is paying and is suddenly asked for more.