Family law differs from state to state. In California, alimony is usually awarded when a divorce decree is issued. Therefore, it is worth noting that when a divorce decree expressly relieves a party from paying alimony or when it is silent as to alimony and reserves no right to award alimony, any alimony awarded after such a divorce decree is barred by res judicata, which means the case has been decided.
But when a divorce decree includes alimony, one may request the court to modify the alimony by motion. A motion is a court pleading where a party requests the court to take certain action. To modify alimony, one needs to file a "Motion to Modify Alimony" under the same case number as the original divorce case where the alimony was originally decided.
Standard form motion and the procedure to filing such a motion are available on California's Family Law Self Help Center website:
http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp/family/support/supforms.htm. You can find similar documents and information on most states' websites.
There are generally two ways to go about reducing alimony: fraud or mistake of fact, and change in circumstance.
To establish fraud or mistake of fact, one must establish that there is either fraud or mistake of fact that materially affects the award of alimony. For example, if there was a mistake regarding to the alimony recipient's financial information at the time of the alimony award, then such mistake of fact may be a ground for modification of alimony. Or, if the alimony recipient intentional misrepresents his/her financial information at the time of the alimony award, such situation may also warrant a modification of alimony.
For change in circumstance, the law is "[i]f final order was made in earlier proceedings seeking modification of original award of alimony, evidence must show material change of circumstances subsequent to last previous such order for later modification of award of alimony to be valid." Simply put, absent fraud or mistake of fact, there must be a change of circumstance since the date of the original alimony award.
To determine whether there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances warranting modification of alimony, the court would compare the financial circumstances of the parties at the time of the divorce decree with their circumstances at the time when a modification is requested. Changes of circumstance that justify alimony reduction includes: reduction or cessation of income, physical disability, old age, new debt incurred, or loss of property. However, these changes are determined by the court on a case by case basis and are not a guarantee in alimony reduction.
After a Motion to Modify Alimony is filed, the opposing party may file an Opposition to argue why alimony should not be reduced. It is strongly recommended that an attorney be retained to file the motion, especially when the other side has legal representation.