Retroactive Modification of Alimony

We have blogged countless times about a payor spouse’s efforts to modify his alimony obligation post-divorce by claiming that he has suffered a substantial and continuing change in his financial circumstances.  When a court concludes that a change has occurred meriting modification, and implements a new modified support obligation, at what point should the modification become effective?  When the payor spouse first filed for a modification?  When a plenary hearing is held?  At the conclusion of the entire matter? 

Oftentimes, the payor spouse will claim that he has established a change in circumstances and, if the Court determines a plenary hearing is necessary and an intervening period of discovery, that a reduction be made in the interim pending the outcome of the hearing.  Why is such a request appropriate?  First, if the payor has established his initial burden of proving a change in circumstances, requiring him to continue paying at the current amount until completion of a hearing will likely ensure the ongoing accrual of arrears at the higher number.  A Court’s refusal to grant such relief also incentivizes the payee spouse to drag out the matter indefinitely, since only the payor suffers without some form of interim relief. To that end, we recently had a matter where the Court declined our payor client’s request for interim relief pending the plenary hearing but later granted such relief because the payee spouse had deliberately dragged on the matter for months beyond that envisioned by the Court. 

This issue was also recently addressed by the Appellate Division in its unpublished (not precedential) decision in Baker v. Baker.  There, the payor spouse argued that the trial court erred by only retroactively reducing his alimony by one month – to August 1, 2010 – as opposed to either March 25, 2008 when payor filed his original motion to reduce alimony, or May 2, 2005 when he was involuntarily terminated from his position of employment precipitating his economic downward spiral.

Continue Reading Retroactive Modification of Alimony – How Far Back Should a Court Go?