A divorce decree is the end of a marriage, but it may be the beginning of long-term financial obligations such as alimony and child support. The amount of support may be modified throughout the lives of either party, depending on a change of circumstance such as job loss, disability and retirement. Many former spouses are able to negotiate modifications to the original agreement without going to court. Although it is highly recommended that the modification be put in writing, exes who are on good terms may just verbally agreement to reduce support, or terminate support earlier than expected.
This is all well and good – until someone changes their mind. Let's say, for example, an ex husband has been reduced to part-time hours at his job through no fault of his own. He asks his former wife is could pay her a reduced alimony/ child support amount until he is restored to full time hours, or finds a better job. She knows it would be best to put it in writing, but they have a good co-parenting relationship, and he has always been honorable about his obligations. So, she agrees to let things be for now, and make it work on the reduced payments.
A year later, her ex finds a better paying job, and she approaches him about going back to the original support amount. While he agrees that his income situation has improved, he insists that it's not quite good enough for him to pay her the original support amount. Plus, she's been managing on the reduced support, so maybe that's the way things should be from now on. Now what? Well, she could take him to court, but remember – there is nothing in writing, so who will the court believe?
While each case has its unique set of circumstances, it is known that verbal agreements can be enforceable by the courts. The key factor would be the conduct of the parties, and/or their authorized representatives, regardless of what was allegedly agreed upon in the original agreement. Hence, if the wife was receiving reduced payments for a year without any protest, or discussing the issue with her attorney, it could be implied that she verbally agreed to the modification.
Of course, the court would still need to determine whether there is enough of a change in circumstance to restore the original support amount. However, the wife may have a serious problem if she is asking for arrears to pursuant to the original support order. This is not an unusual request, but any attorney will tell you that provisions of such a specific nature must be put in writing. In short, agreements between former spouses should be in writing after both parties have been given a chance to speak with independent counsel. If you are considering a modification of your divorce agreement, please find out about your rights and legal option from the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.