Job Lock: Modifying Alimony to Pursue a New Job

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Alimony on Tuesday, May 12, 2015.

People who pay alimony can be prevented from changing jobs if the change means a lower salary. The court won’t stop you from changing jobs, but it won’t modify your alimony obligation downward. This means you could be locked into your job.

Prof. Margaret Ryznar, from the University of Indiana, published a research paper on the “job lock” effect of alimony. Professor Ryznar’s paper comes at a good time, as I’ve been writing about alimony a lot while Florida debates alimony reform.

Although Florida alimony reform failed again in 2015, alimony laws have been under attack in Florida for years. Alimony laws used to be generous, including permanent support. These days, only Florida and a few states continue to allow lifelong, permanent alimony.

Maybe one reason for the rise of alimony reform is the increasingly negative view people have of alimony. Clients view alimony as an inflexible and ironclad financial obligation, one that does not allow for nuance in individual cases.

Florida allows any party to modify alimony, whether alimony was agreed to in a marital settlement agreement, or ordered by the court, if the circumstances or the financial ability of either party changes.

However, the change in circumstances must have occurred after the order awarding alimony. Additionally, a modification of alimony requires proving a change in circumstances. If so, a modification in Florida depends on the type and the purpose of the alimony award.

Where a substantial change in circumstances is your reason for modifying alimony, you must show the substantial change in circumstances was not contemplated at the time of the order, and that the change is sufficient, material, involuntary and permanent in nature.

There are many reasons for alimony modification. A court may reduce or terminate alimony if a spouse has entered into a supportive relationship with a person with whom he or she resides. Also, the unemployment and retirement of the paying spouse are valid reasons.

Because courts are likely to be unwilling to modify alimony based on a change of job to a lower salary, the professor’s new research paper proposes a new test that balances the interests of the alimony recipient with those of the payor.

For example, is the change in job designed to avoid paying alimony, or an investment in the future, or is it due to a change in circumstances? If someone takes a pay cut to become mayor or a judge, should their dream job be prevented due to an alimony obligation?

A balancing test made for each case may be what is needed to protect families who rely on support, and release a possible job lock effect of an alimony award. The research paper is available here.