Can A Spouse’s Failure To Become Self Supporting Warrant A Modification Of Support?


Clients who are paying spousal support often become frustrated if it appears that their exspouse has taken no efforts to become self supporting since the divorce, and that their spousal support is enabling their ex to simply live an idle lifestyle. In some cases, the court will not tolerate a supported spouse who fails to make a diligent effort to become self supporting and as a result the court may reduce, or in some cases go as far as terminating spousal support.


Generally, a change of circumstances is required in order to modify a support order. In a case where a wife was unemployed at the time of the divorce, and remains unemployed fifteen years later, technically there is not a change of circumstances because the wife’s circumstances are the same as they were at the time of divorce. But this technicality does not circumvent the policy that both spouses should make efforts to become self supporting. In the case In Re the Marriage of Shaughnessy, the court found that the wife’s failure to diligently seek employment constituted a change of circumstances justifying a modification of spousal support. The Shaughnessy court cited another case, In Re the Marriage of Schaffer, where the court terminated spousal support after fifteen years of support, following a twenty four year marriage and stated that the supporting spouse had “been forced to pay for [the supported spouse’s] unwillingness to consider more suitable employment for a period of fifteen years.”


The caveat to this rule is that the supported spouse must have been admonished to become self supporting in the permanent spousal support order. This goal may be set forth as a provision to the Judgment for Dissolution. A “Gavron Warning” will admonish the supported spouse that it is in the best interest of both spouses as well as society, that the supported spouse become self supporting. Therefore, where a supported spouse has received a Gavron Warning, but has failed to make a diligent effort to become self supporting, the payor spouse may be able to request that the court reduce or terminate spousal support based on the supported spouse’s failure to take action as contemplated by the Judgment.

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