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Job Loss and Alimony Modification in Utah

Utah law provides for a potential reduction if specific standards are met.

During the current economic downturn in mid-2020, many people in Utah have lost their jobs or had their hours cut. When one of those people is also an ex-spouse with an alimony obligation from a previous marriage, the sudden drop in income may make support payments difficult or impossible.

Court-Ordered Relief

The solution may be for the paying spouse to seek a reduction or cancellation of alimony from the court, which keeps continuing jurisdiction over the alimony provisions of the divorce, including the power to "make substantive changes and new orders regarding alimony based on a substantial material change in circumstances not foreseeable at the time of the divorce."

Substantial, Material, Unforeseeable Circumstances

It is likely to be difficult to argue that the economic conditions would have been foreseeable before they began, absent unusual circumstances and especially if the divorce was long ago. However, the amount of the income loss, changes in the payor's expenses and the needs of the recipient will determine whether the change is a substantial, material change.

If the payor retired when the financial crunch began, even if the retirement was not foreseeable, Utah law says that retirement is a substantial material change, unless the divorce order expressly says otherwise.

Imputed Income

The recipient party could ask the court to impute income to the payor if the recipient can show that the payor was voluntarily underemployed. Imputing income means that the court would assess whether the payor could pay and how much considering an extra amount of imputed, or assumed, income they would have if not voluntarily not working or working less than their potential.

The court looks at the person's ability to get income based on the potential of getting employment and the likely earnings. In this case, even if the payor lost work because of job loss related to the economy, if they failed to look for new work or turned down other positions, the court may decide to consider this voluntary unemployment.

Later Request to Restore Alimony

If the alimony amount is reduced, because the court retains continuing jurisdiction over alimony orders, when the paying party gets back on their feet financially again, the recipient may be able to request a second, upward modification, so long as they can show that the financial recovery of the paying individual was not foreseeable and is a substantial change is circumstances.