For those currently paying spousal support or child support pursuant to a court order, it is important to remember that you may not adjust the payment amount or other terms by agreement with the payee alone.  You remain subject to the terms of the original order until the court approves any amendment.

In one case, when a couple divorced, they reached a property settlement agreement that obliged the husband to pay $1,250 per month in spousal support.  The agreement also included a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) which stated that the couple would agree to increase the amount over time “by a standard formula mutually satisfactory to the parties.”

The husband continued to make payments over the years of $1,250.00 per month without any cost-of-living adjustments and without any objection by the wife.  In addition, the husband made adjustments to the payment amount or did not make payments at all during certain times, when the parties agreed to allow him to offset his spousal support obligation by providing free rent or making purchases for his ex-wife.

After several years without incident, the wife filed for an arrearage when the husband failed to make a payment, claiming the missed payments and the cost-of-living-adjustment.  The court ordered the husband to pay $143,872.44 in spousal support arrearages.

The court explained that the husband remained liable both for the missed payments and for the cost-of-living adjustments under the original property settlement agreement since neither party ever petitioned the court to approve any modification.  In addition, since the parties had never agreed to a method of calculation for the cost-of-living adjustment, the court chose one and applied it to calculate the amount owed.

The moral of the story is, if the court order is the foundation of the obligation, only the judge can change the obligation.  Even if the payee seems in agreement, the payor must go to court to confirm any changes before he is safe. For more information, please contact MG Law.

Peter Goergen

Scott Simmons

The materials on this website are meant for informational purposes only and nothing contained in this site is to be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should contact an attorney directly. Do not act upon the information on this site without seeking professional guidance. Information on this website about specific matters or success in previous cases is not meant to be a prediction or guarantee of similar results in any other case. Each case consists of factors and applicable law unique to that case and you should consult an attorney.