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Ex-husband’s decrease in income warranted reduction of spousal support. O’Brien v. O’Brien, 60 A.D.3d 1124 (N.Y. App. Div. 2009)

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When a couple goes through a divorce, one of the most contentious issues that often arises is spousal support. Spousal support, also known as alimony, is a court-ordered payment made by one spouse to the other after a divorce or separation. When a court enters an order for spousal support, it is typically based on the financial needs of the receiving spouse and the ability of the paying spouse to meet those needs. However, circumstances can change, and sometimes a modification of the spousal support order is necessary.

The standard for modification of a spousal support order in New York is a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. The party seeking modification has the burden of proving that there has been a significant change in circumstances that warrants a modification of the existing support order. In O’Brien v. O’Brien, the court was asked to consider whether there had been a substantial change in circumstances that would justify a modification of the spousal support order.

Factual Background
In O’Brien v. O’Brien, the parties were married in 1983 and had two children together before separating in 2005. During the pendency of their divorce proceedings, the court ordered the ex-husband to pay his ex-wife $15,000 per month in temporary spousal support. The order was based on the ex-husband’s high income and the ex-wife’s need for financial support.

The ex-husband later filed a motion seeking to modify the temporary spousal support order. He argued that there had been a substantial change in circumstances that warranted a modification of the support amount.

Discussion
The court in O’Brien v. O’Brien noted that the party seeking modification of a spousal support order has the burden of proving a substantial change in circumstances. The court further explained that a substantial change in circumstances must be unforeseen, unanticipated, and not the result of voluntary actions taken by the party seeking modification.

In this case, the ex-husband argued that his substantial decrease in income, due to a decline in the real estate market and the loss of several lucrative deals, constituted a substantial change in circumstances. The ex-wife opposed the modification, arguing that the ex-husband had voluntarily left his employment and that his financial difficulties were a result of his own choices.

The court ultimately found that the ex-husband had met his burden of proving a substantial change in circumstances. The court noted that the ex-husband’s financial situation had deteriorated significantly since the temporary spousal support order was entered, and that he had made efforts to find new employment but had been unsuccessful.

The court also rejected the ex-wife’s argument that the ex-husband’s financial difficulties were a result of his own choices. The court noted that the ex-husband had not voluntarily left his employment, but had been terminated due to the downturn in the real estate market. The court further noted that the ex-husband had made reasonable efforts to find new employment, but had been unsuccessful due to the economic conditions at the time.

Based on these findings, the court granted the ex-husband’s motion to modify the temporary spousal support order. The court reduced the support amount to $10,000 per month, taking into account the ex-husband’s reduced income and the ex-wife’s financial needs.

Conclusion
O’Brien v. O’Brien is an example of the standard for modification of spousal support orders in New York. A party seeking modification must demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances that is unforeseen, unanticipated, and not the result of voluntary actions taken by the party seeking modification. In this case, the court found that the ex-husband had met this burden and granted his motion to modify the temporary spousal support order. The case underscores the importance of carefully assessing the facts and circumstances surrounding a request for modification of a spousal support order, and the need to present compelling evidence to support such a request. If you are involved in matter related to spousal support, contact an experienced New York family lawyer.

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