Family law in the Time of COVID-19: Income Loss – Alimony Edition
What if I’ve lost income during COVID-19 and am required to pay alimony?
If you’ve lost income due to unemployment, reduced hours, or furlough, you may be eligible to request modification of your alimony obligation. It depends upon how your alimony obligation was decided.
Court Decided Alimony
If a court decided that you should pay alimony, then court-awarded alimony can be modified “as circumstances and justice require”. Also, a court may terminate alimony “if the court finds that termination is necessary to avoid a harsh and inequitable result.”
If alimony resulted from an agreement, then the agreement may or may not allow for modification or termination. It all depends upon whether there is language in the agreement that:
· “the provisions with respect to alimony or spousal support are not subject to any court modification”; and,
· If the agreement allows for modification or termination, under what circumstances.
Whether agreement-based alimony is modifiable or terminable due to income loss can be a difficult question and is best discussed with an attorney.
Retroactive Modification of Alimony
Maryland’s Court of Appeals decided in 2001 that a Court is allowed to modify alimony payments to a date earlier than the request to modify is filed with the Court if “circumstances and justice require”. (This is not so with child support.) This idea of dating back to filing is also called “retroactivity”.
Reducing Alimony Before Modification
Difficult questions arise when the alimony payor’s income is reduced but she or he can continue to pay some, but not all, of the support ordered. Should alimony payments continue after an income change? If so, how much?
This decision is usually best made in consultation with an attorney about your specific circumstances, as the law is not very developed on this issue.
Income loss can be a reason to change alimony depending upon whether the alimony is modifiable or not. While the path to entitlement to request modification is clear for court-awarded alimony, it is less so for agreement-based alimony that requires review of the agreement and whether and under what circumstances modification is allowed.
Since 2002, Lindsay Parvis has represented clients in Maryland custody, divorce, and marital matters. She negotiates, litigates, and advocates for the best interests of her clients, whether in contested litigation, uncontested settlement, or premarital and other agreements. Her clients are not only spouses and parents, but also children whose interests she is appointed by the court to represent in contested custody litigation. Lindsay strives to improve Maryland law in the General Assembly, volunteering her time to monitor, advocate, and educate about legislative developments in family law.