My ex just won the Lottery. Can I stop paying alimony now?
“Alimony” is a series of monthly maintenance payments made from one former spouse to another for a fixed period of time following entry of a divorce decree. In Pennsylvania, alimony is often characterized as a “secondary” form of relief, available to a dependent spouse where an equitable distribution of the marital assets cannot otherwise be accomplished. For instance, if parties to a divorce have been married for 30 years, and during the marriage one spouse focused their efforts on raising the children while the other advanced their career, the “dependent” spouse may be entitled to alimony for a number of months or years following the divorce in order to rehabilitate their own career and earning capacity.
Once awarded by the court, alimony is only modifiable where the paying spouse can show a change in circumstances that are of a significant and continuing nature. This “change in circumstances” may be an illness, involuntary loss of income, or other significant change resulting in the obligor’s inability to pay.
But what about lottery winnings? This question was raised recently by a New Jersey woman who was ordered to pay alimony to her former husband for five years following their divorce. Five months later, husband won $27.3 million on a Mega Millions lottery ticket. In this instance the “change in circumstances” has nothing to do with Wife’s ability to meet her obligation, but rather Husband’s need for monthly maintenance payments in light of his $27.3M windfall. Under Pennsylvania law, Husband’s jackpot would be compelling case for Wife to terminate her obligation. Because alimony in PA is based in large part on the needs of the recipient spouse, courts would certainly entertain a petition to modify where the paying spouse can establish a significant change in circumstances whereby the recipient spouse no longer has those same needs. A more common example would be where a recipient spouse marries or cohabitates with a significant other.
To learn more about how alimony is applied in Pennsylvania, as well as the grounds by which a party may modify or terminate their alimony obligation, call and speak with one of our experienced Family Law attorneys.