Dear Penny: My Ex Inherited Millions. Can I Get Out of Paying Alimony Now?

A woman looks off into the distance while laying on furniture. Two maids clean the house and a butler answers the landline phone.
Getty Images
Dear Penny,

I had worked in maritime for years and decided to start my own business. I’m not making the money I had made, so I’m struggling to make alimony payments and have had to use all of my savings.

My ex-wife inherited millions through a trust fund and property when her father passed away. She works full time and doesn’t have to pay rent or mortgage because of the trust property, which was completely renovated. She also benefits from the trust minimally on an annual basis. She is now living in a better financial situation than when we were married, but I’m still paying alimony of $2,000 a month. Do I have to hire an attorney to go back to court for an amendment?

— Stuck with the Short End of the Stick

Dear Short End,

Spousal support, sometimes called “alimony,” agreements are governed by your state, so the details might vary from state to state. Many states allow for the option to change the payment amount when circumstances change, as long as it’s allowed in your original settlement agreement.

Some settlements state that a spousal support agreement can’t be changed under any circumstances. If that’s the case for yours, you could have a tough time ending or reducing your payment even if you hire an attorney. Other settlements state certain circumstances under which spousal support can change, such as when income changes for either of you or simply when you both agree to a change.

If you and your ex can agree to change the support without going to court, you could both sign and submit a written agreement along with any forms your state requires. In that process, a judge would officially order the change. Even if you both agree, don’t stop making payments until your support obligation has been changed legally.

If you and your ex don’t agree on a change — and your original settlement allows changes — some states let you file a modification request and attend a hearing to argue for the change. You might be able to navigate this process on your own, but an attorney can make it easier and help you understand each step.

Consult with an attorney in your state to see what your local laws allow. Then review your original spousal support agreement to see whether it allows for future modifications. If it does, you can speak with your ex or work with an attorney to discuss the changes you want to pursue.

Dana Miranda is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance®, author, speaker and personal finance journalist. She writes Healthy Rich, a newsletter about how capitalism impacts the ways we think, teach and talk about money.