Alimony – Renewal Versus Modification

The NH Supreme Court case of Hoyt and Hoyt, decided on October 3, 2018, addresses the standard of proof needed to renew an expired alimony order versus modifying an existing alimony order.  The Hoyt case was decided prior to the new alimony law (effective as of January 1, 2019).  Note that the new alimony law includes a section on modification at 458:19-aa.

In Hoyt, Mr. Hoyt appealed the reinstatement of his alimony obligation which was initially ordered for a period of 18 months and had been paid in full about 6 months prior to Ms. Hoyt’s motion to renew the order.  Case law decided under the prior alimony law makes clear that if a party seeks to modify an existing alimony order, he or she must demonstrate that there has been a substantial change in financial circumstances that have arisen since the initial award was entered that makes the current order improper or unfair.  However, this standard does not apply if a party seeks to renew an expired award.  If a party seeks to renew an expired award of alimony, then the burden is on the moving party to establish that justice requires renewal or extension.

While this sounds like a murky standard, the court will consider all of the facts and circumstances of the parties in reaching its decision.  In the Hoyt case, Ms. Hoyt based her need for alimony renewal on an increase in her expenses:  her eldest child had withdrawn from college due to a medical condition and moved back in with Ms. Hoyt; the middle child lived at home with Ms. Hoyt in summers and during vacation while college is not in session, and Ms. Hoyt herself was of limited means.  Mr. Hoyt objected to alimony being tied to expenses related to adult children, but the Supreme Court disagreed and upheld the renewal of alimony.  The Hoyt case is significant as, in an era of declining alimony awards, it provides an additional basis for seeking to renew such an award.

About the Author: Judith A. Fairclough

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