In the state of New York, it is possible for a spouse to request maintenance, or a modification to maintenance that has already been awarded under very specific circumstances. Crucially, an ex-spouse cannot simply request additional maintenance because they believe that the first award was unfair. During my time as a family and divorce lawyer, I have seen cases in which an ex-spouse has requested a modification of maintenance payments without the correct proof to show that such an alteration is necessary. If a plaintiff cannot produce any evidence that they are suffering from financial hardship, or that their income, assets, or job status have changed, then there is often no need for the court to hold a hearing regarding a change in maintenance. According to how the Domestic Relations Law is applied in New York, if a party wishes to modify a maintenance obligation that was set forth by stipulation that was incorporated, but not merged into the judgment of a divorce, that party is responsible for showing a substantial change in their circumstances that warrants such modification, ie: extreme hardship. The standard is slightly relaxed when the obligation comes from a court order or judgment.
People are free to alter what the default law is by including specific language in their agreements. For example, without specifying that maintenance is to continue upon remarriage of the recipient spouse, maintenance should end upon the new marriage. Where either the ex-husband or wife wants to change or modify the amount or duration of the alimony, now known as maintenance, set forth in a divorce, that person needs to demonstrate a substantial change of circumstances that merits the consideration of maintenance again. The cases stand for the proposition that the change can be financial hardship, but extreme financial hardship is usually what must be shown. The desire to get more or pay less money alone is not enough.
The New York court considers changes in circumstances by measuring the scenario that a spouse is in at the present time, against the situation that was presented during the original court order. When no evidence representing a significant change has been provided, then a court does not need to have a hearing on maintenance, as there is nothing to evaluate. A situation that might qualify to look at maintenance again is a financial emergency such that one of the parties is at risk of becoming a “public charge”. The presence of sudden huge medical bills or another disaster that requires additional support or a decrease in the support to be paid might be a factor to consider modifying the prior award. Continue reading