Employment and Labor Law

 What is Alimony?

When a couple gets divorced, it is not uncommon for one spouse to receive alimony payments from the other spouse for a specified period of time. The amount of alimony the supporting spouse will be required to pay will depend on a number of factors including the length of the marriage; each spouse’s age, health, and station in life; each spouse’s occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, and employability; and any other relevant factors.

What if Something Changes After the Divorce?

Connecticut Statute § 46b-86 allows parties to set aside, alter, or modify support payments after a marriage when there is a “substantial change in circumstances” that affects one or both parties.

Is the Increase of Income of the Supporting Spouse a Valid “Substantial Change in Circumstance?”

This is the question that the Connecticut Supreme Court was faced with in the decision of Dan v. Dan, 315 Conn. 1. In this case, the parties had been married for twenty nine years and had three adult children together.  In 2000, at the time of the divorce, the husband was earning $696,000. In the divorce decree, the wife was awarded $15,000 per month in alimony payments. However, in 2010, the former husband’s salary had increased to $3.24 million annually, plus $3 million in stock option cash-ins. Based on this increase of income and the fact that according to the former wife, her medical bills had “skyrocketed,” she petitioned the court to modify her alimony payments. The wife however was not able to substantiate her claim of “skyrocketing” medical costs.

The trial court had originally increased the former wife’s monthly payments to $40,000 per month. When this case reached the Connecticut Supreme Court, it overturned that decision and declared “an increase in the supporting spouse’s income, standing alone, ordinarily will not justify the granting of a motion to modify an alimony award.”

The court reasoned that since the original amount of alimony was more than sufficient to cover the needs of the former wife, at the time of the divorce as well as at the time the motion was made, there was no reason to change the payment simply to “allow the supported spouse’s standard of living to match the supporting spouse’s standard of living after the divorce, when the supported spouse is no longer contributing to the supporting spouse’s income earning efforts.” However, the court clarified that if the initial award is not sufficient to fulfill the needs of the supported spouse, an increase in salary may be sufficient justification for modifying an alimony award.

Things to Consider Before Petitioning for a Modification of an Alimony Payment Award: 

 Before petitioning the court to modify an alimony award, a supporting or supported spouse must ask

  • Has there been a substantial change in circumstance for me or my former spouse?
  • Is the current alimony award covering the needs of me or my spouse?
  • What were the important considerations leading to the alimony amount awarded at the time of dissolution?

Attorney Louise Zito’s practice is devoted to Family Law matters including Divorce, Support, and Custody. She is a mediator, collaborative attorney, and a litigator. For questions concerning alimony, child support, or other family law issues, please contact Attorney Zito.