Alimony & Spousal Support

An Inheritance is a Change in Circumstances to Modify a Spousal Support Order

In the Family Law, Spousal Support case of Filegel vs. Filegel, PICS Case No.14-0646 (C.P. Monroe, March 26, 2014) the Honorable Dan Higgins ruled that the Master erred by not finding a change of circumstances when husband, who was receiving alimony pendente lite, inherited a large sum of money and assets from his mother.

In this divorce action, wife was ordered to pay alimony pendente lite (APL) in the amount of $3,171 plus $317 in arrears. Husband filed for modification, seeking an extension of APL due to the ongoing divorce action. A support hearing was held before a Master and, based on his findings, the court ordered wife to pay $2,553 monthly to husband for approximately one year and the sum of $2,990 thereafter. APL was scheduled to terminate on April 9, 2014, or sooner upon final decree of divorce. Wife filed exceptions to the Master’s findings, contending that the Master erred by not finding a change of circumstances when husband inherited a large sum of money and assets from his mother. The court of common pleas granted the exception.

When a party is seeking to modify an existing support order, the moving party has the burden of proving by competent evidence that a material and substantial change in circumstances has occurred. Wife claimed husband had a change in circumstances based on an inheritance he received from his mother.

In his findings, the Master noted that husband owned rental property producing an income of $2,400 per month, an investment account with a balance of $180,000 which had since been reduced to $100,000 due to his purchase of a $93,000 Porsche. Husband spent as much for food as an average family of three and spent $2,100 per year on martial arts lessons.

In her request for modification, wife claimed that husband no longer needed APL to have equal resources to pursue the divorce proceedings.

Despite Master’s findings, husband did have a change of circumstances for the better. Husband represented that he made $6,000 when his tax returns showed that he earned $25,563 in dividends. Husband knew or should have known that he underestimated his earnings, yet he did not report any additional income to domestic relations. Instead of reporting additional earnings, husband filed a request for modification.

Husband’s APL should be terminated as of the date wife filed her petition for modification. The record demonstrated that husband’s standard of living had increased and he was able to defend himself in the divorce action. Accordingly, the exception was granted.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly (May 6, 2014)

Filed Under: Family Law: Spousal Support; Alimony Pedente Lite; Change in Circumstances

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