Knowledge Base

Post Divorce Modification of
           Alimony & Spousal Support

November 1, 2005
Written by Dr. Lynne Halem, Director, Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution

Post Divorce Modification of Alimony & Spousal Support

How Mediation Turned A Potential Court Battle Into A Constructive, Cost-effective Solution for Both Spouses
When Paul and Allison divorced, they agreed that Paul’s support should be paid in the form of child support. The amount, on which Allison did not pay taxes, was enough for her to pay the household expenses. Income from her part time employment provided the extras—a vacation here and there, a new car every four years, the little extras that made life nicer.
Yet, that was yesterday. Today 10 years later, with the youngest child being graduated form college in six months, Allison’s future appeared bleak. She had no career, no support to count on. Paul, on the other hand, had remarried, bought a large house in an expensive suburb and was soon to be free of any obligation to Allison. She felt foolish and betrayed. Why had she negotiated away alimony for higher child support? Why had she waited until now to confront a dismal financial future?

Allsion sought out her divorce lawyer who reassured her that she could return to court based on a material change in circumstances. She could open up the alimony issue.

At first Allison was relieved and then frightened. She did not want to go back to court; she did not want to confront Paul with a lawsuit. Over the years, their relationship had developed into a cordial and cooperative one, almost a friendship. They were good, in fact, excellent parents. Their children had thrived, knowing that their mother and father, albeit divorced, were always there for them. What would she say to him? How would he react? Should she have her lawyer write to Paul? Allison didn’t need anyone to answer her questions. She needed to approach Paul, not her lawyer. She needed to lay out the facts. Allison, as Paul well knew, earned too little to support herself. Allison was in trouble.

Fortunately for Allison, Paul did listen to her. He was well aware that their agreement had an opening for Allison to petition the court for future spousal support. Although he had never broached the subject with Alison and had hoped against hope that she would remarry, find a career, he was not really surprised when she approached him.

For Allison and Paul, mediation offered an alternative to petitioning the court. In this instance, both parties knew of the dilemma. But knowing is not the same as agreeing. Paul knew the problem, but he felt Allison was responsible. She had chosen to avoid saving for her future or becoming financially independent. She had acted as if the support were a flowing stream that would never dry up. Intellectually, sympathizing with her was one thing; paying for her avoidance was another.

In mediation, Paul and Allison struggled with their conflicting views and feelings. Allison did not feel it would have been possible for her to save enough to be financially independent now, nor did she feel that she had the time or the energy while raising the kids, to build a career. Paul did not want a lifetime of support payments to Allison. Fortunately, Allison agreed. The mediator suggested an alternative—what if Allison got some job training in order to pursue a more lucrative career. This seemed like a reasonable expense that Paul was willing to cover, as well as pay alimony to Allison for the next five years. While Paul was annoyed by what he viewed as Allison’s problem, he did not want the mother of his children to have to sell her house in order to support herself. Short-term support, with the objective of changing Allison’s future, appealed to him. He did not want to throw money at a situation that would not change. And, Allison too was pleased. She wanted to become financially independent and was willing to make it happen—she just needed some help; help which Paul agreed to provide.

Post-divorce issues can be challenging. With the guidance of a skilled mediator, creative solutions can be brought to light and both ex spouses can walk away feeling proud of their accomplishment.

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