My ex inherited millions. Am I now exempt from paying alimony?

Dear Penny,

I had worked in shipping for years and decided to start my own company. I'm not making the money I was making, so I'm struggling to make my support payments and have had to use up all my savings.

My ex-wife inherited millions and assets through a trust fund when her father died. She works full-time and doesn't have to pay rent or mortgage because the trust property has been completely renovated. She also benefits slightly from the trust each year. She's in a better financial situation now than when we were married, but I still pay child support of $2,000 a month. Do I need to hire an attorney to go back to court for a modification?

– I'm stuck with the short end of the stick

Dana Miranda is a Certified Personal Finance® Educator and contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Send your tough money questions to AskPenny@thepennyhoarder.com. [ The Penny Hoarder ]

Dear short ending,

Spousal support agreements, sometimes called “alimony,” are governed by your state’s rules, so the details may vary from state to state. Many states allow you to change the payment amount if circumstances change, if allowed in your original settlement agreement.

Some settlements state that a spousal support agreement cannot be changed under any circumstances. If this is the case for you, you may find it difficult to stop or reduce your payment, even if you hire a lawyer. Other agreements specify specific circumstances under which spousal support may change, such as if one of you's income changes or simply both agree to a change.

If you and your ex can agree to modify alimony without going to court, you could both sign and file a written agreement, along with any forms your state requires. In this process, a judge would formally order the change. Even if you both agree, do not stop payments until your support obligation is legally changed.

If you and your ex don't agree on a modification – and your original agreement allows for modifications – in some states you can file a modification and attend a hearing to argue for the modification. You may be able to navigate this process yourself, but an attorney can make your job easier and help you understand every step.

Consult an attorney in your state to find out what your local laws allow. Then, review your original spousal support agreement to see if it allows for future changes. If this is the case, you can talk to your ex or work with an attorney to discuss the changes you are seeking.

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Dana Miranda is a Certified Personal Finance® Educator and contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Send your tough money questions to AskPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

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