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Post Decree Modification of Spousal Support

While a divorce case is pending, a court has the power to dissolve the parties' marriage, to resolve issues of child custody and child support, to divide the parties' debts and liabilities and to order the payment of spousal support. The court has the power to take these actions because it has jurisdiction over the parties and the subject matter. Once a final divorce decree is entered, the case terminates.

Reservation of Jurisdiction

When the case terminates, the court's jurisdiction over the parties with respect to spousal support ends, unless the court has specifically reserved jurisdiction to review such issue. Any court action that occurs after a final divorce decree has been entered is post-decree action. If a court has reserved jurisdiction, it may continue to review the status and the needs of the parties who are subject to a spousal support award.

Post-Decree Modification

If the court has reserved jurisdiction to review spousal support, the court has retained the power to increase, decrease, or terminate the amount of support to be paid. Either party may file a post-decree petition to modify or terminate support. The court may increase or decrease the amount of support ordered upon a showing that a party has suffered an unanticipated change in circumstances that materially affects an ability to pay support or to continue to live according to a pre-established standard and that the change will be a long-term change.

Change in Circumstances

Changes that have been found to support modifications include, but are not limited to: death, involuntary loss of income, serious illness or disability, forced retirement, and the like. The common characteristic of each of these circumstances is that their occurrence is unanticipated and is caused by outside forces. In some states, a support order can be modified or terminated if the recipient spouse remarries or cohabits with another person of the opposite sex.