There are some situations in which the marital agreement reached at the close of divorce proceedings does not contain an order of support, yet such may actually be warranted.
When petitioning the court for a new order of support, a modification or extension, the requesting party needs to show there is a material change in circumstances that was not contemplated at the time of divorce.
So for example, if a woman is unknowingly pregnant at the time of divorce, the court would not order child support because the court didn't know of that child. However, once that pregnancy is known, the ex-wife should begin making arrangements for her ex-spouse to help pay costs associated with pregnancy, as well as provide support when the child arrives. Perhaps the court may choose to apply payments retroactively.
Birmingham Divorce Lawyer Steven Eversole of Eversole Law LLC is well-versed in modification of support orders, whether it's for the children or adults involved.
Some situations in which support may not have been ordered when in fact it was warranted include:
- Divorce was entered into too hastily
- One spouse was under duress
- There was an error or fraud involved
- Circumstances for spouse have materially changed
Ideally, the courts would address issues of alimony or support during divorce proceedings. Often, this happens in the initial phases with temporary orders of support following a pendente lite hearing. Those orders remain in effect for the duration of the divorce. Then final orders of support are issued as part of the marital agreement at the conclusion of the divorce.
However, it is sometimes possible to revisit the issue at a later date when circumstances have changed.
Purpose of Support Payments
There are two basic kinds of support issued as part of Alabama divorces:
- Child support
- Spousal support (also known as “alimony” or “spousal maintenance”)
The first is for the benefit of the children. It ensures offspring of the divorcing couple will be financially secure. It is not always the case that the children are biologically related to both parents. For example, if a parent adopted a stepchild during the marriage, he or she would share the same support obligations as any other parent.
Spousal support is issued for purposes of allowing a financially disadvantaged spouse an opportunity to regain his or her economic footing. It may also be granted with the goal of allowing that spouse to maintain a certain lifestyle.
While child support payments are almost always granted in divorce, spousal support is not a given. It must be proven that it's necessary under the circumstances. If those involved were not married for an extended length of time or their incomes and/or earning potential is mostly equal, it's unlikely spousal support will be granted.
Requesting Support After Divorce
Child support payments may be modified at virtually any point after divorce until the child reaches the age of majority, assuming there has been a material change in circumstance. It would be rare for a court to issue no child support to the custodial parent, but modifications are made all the time.
Some of the purposes for which the court may consider modification of child support:
- Paying spouse's loss of employment
- Paying spouse's loss of income
- Receiving party has an increase of income
- Needs of child change (i.e., no more daycare, an increase in medical bills, etc.)
Alimony can be modified as well, often for the same sorts of reasons. However, awards of alimony post-divorce where none were issued in divorce are considerably rarer.
In most cases, a divorce decree that does not award alimony can't be modified after it's made. This is generally true even when there has been a dramatic change in the financial circumstances of either party or when alimony was never discussed.
Typically, the divorce decree is considered final as far as the issues that were addressed, as well to those issues that could have been addressed.
The circumstances under which it may be possible to obtain an award of alimony after divorce would be when denial of a spousal support order was the result of an error. Usually, this means it was the result of a mistake, accident or fraud. So for example, if the court erred in its mathematics and denied the award, the issue could be revisited. Similarly, if one spouse was hiding a significant asset that impacted the decision, this could be cause for reconsideration.
In some cases, courts will specifically indicate reservation of the issue for later consideration. That's not a common scenario, but it does happen.
If you are weighing your options and are unsure whether you may have grounds to request an order of support after divorce, we can provide guidance.