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Ways to End Alimony Payments

After years of making regular alimony payments to their ex-spouses, many divorcees want to find ways to avoid paying alimony in the future. Depending on the terms of the divorce and recent circumstances, changes to the alimony arrangements may be possible.

There are several types of alimony, sometimes called spousal support or maintenance. Some are designed to be temporary, such as support payments that give the recipient spouse time to train or get educated for a new job. Some are more permanent in nature. If paying spouses want to find ways to avoid paying alimony of any type, however, they will have to go back to court.

According to the American Bar Association, the national professional organization for attorneys, only 15 percent of all divorce cases include alimony payments. Overwhelmingly, they flow from the ex-husband to the ex-wife, although they can be awarded the other way around.

"All states allow courts to order alimony, although some states are more reluctant to order alimony than others," the ABA writes in a guidebook about family law.

If, in dividing up the couples property, a spouse agrees (or is ordered by a judge) to make payments to the other spouse in one lump sum, this payment is not eligible for a reduction or elimination. In fact, this type of alimony (sometimes referred to as alimony in gross) is one of the few types of alimony that would still be owed after the recipient spouse dies. (In that case, the payment is then sent to the estate of the deceased spouse.)

Permanent alimony is often awarded to an older divorcing spouse, or one who has limited earning potential because of an illness or health condition, according to the ABA. In addition, permanent alimony may be awarded to a spouse who will never have the same earning power as a more prosperous spouse.

If the conditions under which alimony payments can be changed or eliminated are not already spelled out in the divorce agreement (or court order), the paying spouse will have to show that circumstances have changed to support such a request.

Common Ways to Reduce or End Alimony

Among the more successful arguments to reduce or eliminate alimony are:

  • The paying spouse is suddenly and involuntarily unemployed
  • An illness makes it harder for the paying spouse to work
  • The recipient spouse is living with someone as a couple, not roommates (needs to be of a permanent nature with the ex-spouse and new partner sharing living expenses)

Except for the case of lump sum alimony described above, most alimony payments end when either the ex-spouse dies or the recipient spouse remarries.

Less Successful Ways to Reduce or End Alimony

The following events are not likely to sway a judge to eliminate alimony:

  • Declaring bankruptcy
  • Inflation or an increase in the cost of living
  • The paying spouse voluntarily or deliberately loses a job or sees a reduction in income

But you may think to yourself, "What if I stop paying alimony?" That would not be advisable, as you would be in direct violation of your court order. Rules governing whether alimony can be reduced or terminated vary from state to state. You can get more details from your attorney.