It usually takes several months or more for a hearing to be scheduled once a Petition for Modification of Alimony is filed.
The actual time frame depends largely on where you file the application. When it comes to alimony modification, filing in Family Court tends to be somewhat faster than filing in Supreme Court. If speed is your priority, then it is recommended that you file in Family Court. Still, even considering the relative speediness of Family Court, you may be looking at a process lasting approximately 6 months. If you file in Supreme Court, the process usually takes 6-12 months.
If There is an Emergency Financial Hardship, Will the New York Courts Hear the Order Sooner?
Yes. Specifically, I suggest that my clients file an Order to Show Cause, which is often filed in emergencies, and wedge in the application. In an Order to Show Cause, you can state in bold print—right in the first couple of paragraphs of the affidavit—that there is an emergency, with all of the important details. This will have the effect of bringing the change of circumstances into focus for the judge, as well as the emergency need for adjustments to accommodate for that change.
If you have an attorney filing on your behalf, they can even include a cover letter alerting the court to the emergency and requesting the soonest available court date.
What is the Impact of Cohabitation on Alimony in New York?
In the State of New York, if the agreement does not say otherwise, then mere cohabitation between the recipient or the payor and a third-party does nothing to alimony or maintenance. By statute, it is only if the recipient is holding him or herself out as married to a third-party that may create a basis to modify maintenance or alimony.
However, sometimes agreements will provide otherwise. Individual agreements can deviate from the statute and provide conditions that are binding within the agreement. For instance, an agreement can state that if a recipient chooses to cohabitate with someone of the opposite sex for more than 3 or 4 months, it can create a basis to modify maintenance.
I often find such provisions to be problematic, and sometimes frankly homophobic in the way that they exclude the possibility of same-sex relationships. Generally, I recommend that my clients avoid writing provisions like this into agreements, and that they reject them if they are proposed. Merely having a boyfriend or girlfriend or significant other should not really do anything to a person’s maintenance or alimony, the same as choosing to have a roommate should not necessarily do anything to a person’s maintenance or alimony. The mere fact that the recipient has engaged in a romantic relationship also shouldn’t change the analysis on what they are entitled to in terms of alimony or maintenance, and according to statute, it doesn’t. However, if both parties entered into an agreement that provides for modification under specific circumstances (including cohabitation), then those are the terms of the agreement.
Are There any Situations That Would Result in Automatic Termination of Alimony?
Yes. By statute, two events can automatically terminate alimony or maintenance: the remarriage of the recipient, and the death of either party. However, while these events are grounds for termination of alimony or maintenance, the court will not know that they occurred unless someone files an application saying so. Your application will almost always be accepted in those instances, but you are required to actually file the application in order to have the termination made official by the court.
If an Order to Modify Alimony is Granted, can it Ever be Reverted Once Circumstances Normalize?
The answer to this question is yes, in theory.
If a modification order is granted in either direction (either up or down), you can request that the judge specify that each party is to turn over their finances on at least an annual basis, so that either party can judge whether circumstances have changed and require another modification application.
As an example, let’s say the payor loses his or her job and is granted a downward modification of maintenance based on the loss of income. In that case, the recipient should ask the judge for one of two things.
The first possibility is requesting a two-step order. This means that the court will grant the payor reduced alimony or maintenance payments for a certain amount of time (say, the next 6 months or the next 12 months). However, when that time is up, the payor is required to apply for further modification. If they do not, or if they reapply and their application is denied, then the original agreement will automatically be reinstated.
The second possibility is requesting a provision in the modification order saying that the payor needs to turn over their finances on at least an annual basis, or to affirmatively notify the recipient if they get a job. So, under those circumstances, if they lose their job and then get a great paying job and can then afford to pay the original amount of maintenance, the recipient can file an application with the court and ask for a reinstatement of the original amount.
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