You Lost Your Job-What Happens to Your Alimony Obligation?

This Week’s Blog by Sarah E. Murray

  • Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-86(a) allows for modification of alimony under certain circumstances
  • The circumstances that resulted in your loss of employment and the terms of a severance agreement, if any, will have an impact
  • There are strategy considerations prior to filing a Motion to Modify
  • Consult with a top Fairfield County divorce attorney about your divorce decree so that you are armed with your options after losing your employment

Connecticut Law Allows Alimony Obligations to be Modified

At Broder & Orland LLC, we sometimes receive panicked phone calls from clients or former clients living in towns such as Greenwich, Stamford, and Westport who have lost their jobs.  The first question they ask is: what impact will the job loss have on their obligation to pay alimony?

Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-86(a), the statute that addresses modification of support awards, provides that alimony obligations can be modified “[u]nless and to the extent that the decree precludes modification.”  So, unless your divorce agreement or Court decision states that alimony is non-modifiable, you have the option of modifying your alimony obligation based on the loss of your employment.

Connecticut law provides that, in order for a person to obtain a Court Order modifying alimony, the party seeking the modification must prove that there has been a substantial change in circumstances.   Under Connecticut case law, in determining whether there has been a substantial change in circumstances, a Court will compare the circumstances at the time of the last Court Order of alimony with the circumstances at the time that a party seeks a modification of that Order.  Typically, a job loss in and of itself is considered to be a substantial change in circumstances.  However, the reason that you lost your job and the terms of your severance will be critical in determining the timing and success of your Motion.

The Reason for Your Job Loss and the Terms of a Severance Agreement are Significant

In deciding a Motion to Modify alimony based on job loss, a Court will look at why the alimony payor is no longer employed.  In Connecticut, there is case law that states that loss of employment resulting from a party’s “voluntary culpable conduct” will not be considered a substantial change in circumstances warranting a modification of alimony.  What constitutes voluntary culpable conduct is a factual inquiry.  If you were fired for cause, such as for violating company policies or other inappropriate conduct, it likely will be a stumbling block for you to obtain a modification of your alimony obligation based on job loss.

If you were let go from your employment as part of normal layoffs, and not as a result of any of your voluntary culpable conduct, the next inquiry is whether your circumstances have changed financially as a result of your loss of employment.  Many of our clients want to file a Motion to Modify alimony immediately upon losing their jobs.  If, however, a person receives severance payments for a period of time that are the same or substantially the same as the income received when employed, the receipt of that severance income means, in the eyes of the Court, that there has not been a substantial change in circumstances yet.

When Can I File a Motion to Modify?

It is natural, then, to ask: When can a Motion to Modify Alimony be filed after a job loss?  Every situation is unique, but generally the appropriate time to file such a Motion is toward the end of the severance payment term, assuming that you have not found a job before that time or, if you have found a job, your income at your new employment is now substantially less.

If you have not found new employment and proceed with a Motion to Modify, you can expect that one of the inquiries at the hearing on your Motion will be what you have done and what you currently are doing to find employment.  A Court will want to know that you have made and are making bona fide efforts to obtain employment at or near the level of your prior employment.  If you can prove that have been doing so and have not found employment, a Court likely will look more favorably upon your Motion.  Be sure to save all of your written communications regarding your employment search, as it could become evidence at a hearing on a Motion to Modify.

Contact a Top Fairfield County Divorce Attorney after Losing Your Job

At Broder & Orland LLC, our attorneys have significant experience handling cases involving the modification of alimony when a client has lost his or her employment.  In fact, we have been involved in some of the seminal cases in Connecticut on alimony modification issues and can consult with clients to shed light on whether a potential alimony modification case is viable.  Losing your job can be one of the most stressful events in your life.  Meeting with an attorney to discuss your options can give you peace of mind and provide you with a plan going forward with respect to your alimony obligation.