Can spousal support be modified?

As years go by, circumstances often change.  As a result, spousal support arrangements require modification. A court generally can increase, decrease, or terminate the amount or duration of spousal support, if a party can show a “change in circumstances” not reasonably in the contemplation of the parties when the award was made.  A court may also modify a spousal support award if an event which the court anticipated would occur during the duration of the award, and which was significant in the making of the award, does not occur through no fault of the party seeking the modification.

Virginia Code § 20-109 governs the modification of spousal support awards.  Spousal support (even “permanent support”) can be raised, lowered, or terminated if there is a change of circumstances in the life of the person paying support, or the person receiving the support.  It is very important to note that a court may not modify spousal support that was part of an settlement agreement, unless the agreement says there can be future modification. So long as an agreement awarding spousal support states that future modifications are allowable, a court will have authority to modify such an agreement.

When can an existing spousal support award be modified?

A number of factors influence a court’s decision concerning the modification of a spousal support award.  When modifying an existing spousal support award, the court must consider the factors enumerated in Virginia Code 20-107.1  Pursuant to Virginia Code 20-109, living with someone, after the divorce, in a relationship analogous to marriage, may cause spousal support to be lowered or stopped. Additionally, pursuant to Virginia Code 20-109, death of either the person paying spousal support, or the person receiving spousal support, or re-marriage of the person receiving spousal support, will terminate spousal support, unless a separation or divorce settlement agreement provides otherwise. A significant increase or decrease in income for either spouse (or former spouse) may form a change in circumstance sufficient to warrant a modification of an existing spousal support order.

Examples of “Changes in Circumstances” for Possible Modification

Some examples of the kinds of changes in circumstances that can support a modification of a current spousal support order include:

  • Involuntary loss of a job by either party.
  • Incapacity, medical problems, injury or disability of a person paying spousal support.
  • Cohabitation or remarriage of a person receiving spousal support.
  • Change in work hours or assignment causing a change (increase or decrease) in earnings of either party.  Such change in earnings must be at least 15% to 20% in order to be a “significant change in circumstances” sufficient to warrant a change in spousal support.
  • Significant job promotion or other salary increase of at least 15% to 20% percent for either party.
  • Reaching retirement age.

As set forth above, modification of a spousal support order can be complicated, and depends upon the type of support, the language of the settlement agreement or court order, as well as the specific circumstances suggesting a modification may be in order.  For more information on this topic, please see our Family Law Frequently Asked Questions page.

To schedule a consultation in order to discuss the laws applicable to spousal support in Virginia, and the application of those laws to your situation, please feel free to contact us.