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Making Sense of Alimony — Question 2

Making Sense of Alimony — Question 2
October 1, 2019 Rachel Alexander, Esq.
Businessman shackled by ball hanging on iron chains link cliffs

{3 minutes to read}  The current series of blogs is exploring three frequently asked questions regarding alimony. This article discusses the second of those questions:

1. What if the alimony payor starts earning more money after the marriage? Does alimony increase?

2. What if I (the payor) lose my job and can’t afford to pay alimony?

3. What if she (the payee) is the one who wants the divorce AND the one who had the affair — am I still required to pay alimony?

In every divorce mediation, the payor of alimony is afraid of becoming unable to meet their obligation. This is invariably based on a fear of job loss. 

It’s true: If you lose your job, the obligation to pay alimony doesn’t go away automatically. 

Even if the job loss is through no fault of your own, such as an industry-wide layoff, your obligation remains. You are expected to find a comparable, replacement job as soon as possible. Easier said than done, of course. However, best efforts must be made to secure employment at the same level. In traditional litigation, you would have the option to petition the court for alimony modification or relief. The court would require tangible proof of diligent, exhaustive efforts to secure comparable income — resumes submitted, interviews attended, online job searches completed, etc.

Why does the onus remain with the alimony payer? For a couple of reasons. First, the recipient of alimony is relying, often trepidatiously, on an ex-spouse to provide the regular, necessary support. As goodwill, good faith and good feelings may be lacking, the recipient often must place faith in the strength of the legal system to ensure regularity of payments — which form the basis of meeting his/her own financial obligations. 

Second, as the alimony payor has far more direct control over his or her employment, it is logical that he/she carries the responsibility for it as well. A resentful payor could deliberately sabotage her own livelihood in an effort to unburden herself of a duty she perceives as oppressive and unfair. In order to balance two risk factors inherent in alimony payors — control and high emotionality — the legal system demonstrates more rigidity than flexibility when holding the payor to his/her commitment. 

The good news, as usual, comes in the option of mediation. In mediation, spouses can consider significant changes of circumstances when formulating their settlement agreements, before a crisis ensues. In the event of a job loss, rather than having to petition the court for relief, parties can return to mediation to create an interim support and financial restructuring until gainful employment is restored.

Loss of a job is not going to relieve the payor of an alimony obligation, but in mediation, even post-divorce, we can approach economic vicissitudes in a civilized manner intended to address the needs of both parties. 

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 310-3397‬

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