Avoid Future Problems, Consult With An Attorney To Avoid Modification Of Spousal Support By The Courts.
Since divorce attorneys, like the rest of the population, do not have a crystal ball, making decisions regarding whether spousal support should be modifiable in the future are difficult. This is a very crucial area where individuals trying to navigate through a termination of their marriage without an attorney can run into huge problems.
In Ohio, the Court does not automatically retain jurisdiction to modify spousal support in the future. Instead, the Court’s future jurisdiction to reduce, modify or terminate future spousal support is controlled by the explicit language contained in the Final Decree of Dissolution or Divorce. The drafting of that language, therefore, is critically important. Of course, whether you are the payor or the recipient can have a dramatic effect on how you want that provision written.
Options to consider include the following:
- The Court retains no continuing jurisdiction to modify spousal support in the future.
- The Court retains full jurisdiction to modify both the term and amount of spousal support.
- The Court retains limited jurisdiction to modify the amount of spousal support, but not extend the term.
- The Court retains limited jurisdiction to modify the term, but not the amount of spousal support.
In addition, the duration element of the spousal support is an obviously important area to state correctly. Is the term stated in the Decree a fixed term that cannot be modified even if the payor becomes unemployed? Does the Court retain jurisdiction to only reduce spousal support during the specified term or does the Court retain jurisdiction based on a change in circumstances to extend and increase the amount and term of spousal support? There are several other spousal support nuances that need to be properly analyzed in order to avoid unforeseen negative consequences down the road. I will address some more of those hidden spousal support time bombs in subsequent posts.
Spousal Support Modification Can Be Avoided.
I recently had a client come in who was in the process of using one of those kits that can be purchased online from a legal forms company. Both parties were ready to sign the papers, but the husband, who was paying support, came in to make sure that all the documents were in order. It certainly was a good thing that he did because the language he had picked from the various templates had retained the Court’s full jurisdiction powers that they could modify spousal support indefinitely in the future even though this was a relatively short term marriage. Once I explained the significance of that language to the client, he was exceedingly appreciative that his spousal support exposure was capped to a very short-term without the Court having the power to expand the term or the amount of spousal support.
If you are negotiating the terms of a divorce or dissolution and have not consulted with an attorney who focuses his practice in family law matters, you run the risk of major problems in the future. In addition, no one at the Court, including the Judge at the final hearing, will explain to the parties the significance of the wording that is incorporated into the Decree of Divorce or Dissolution. It is NOT their role to provide litigants with legal advice! Many of these drafting mistakes are impossible to undue later on. If you’re contemplating a divorce or dissolution, don’t make the mistake that many do in trying to prepare the complicated paperwork without the assistance of an experienced divorce lawyer. Remember the old idiom, “the devil is in the details.” It certainly applies here. Don’t become one of the many who are “blown-up” in the future by one of these hidden spousal support time bombs!
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.