What brings divorced people back to a lawyer’s office, or the courthouse? Usually, a “significant change in circumstances,” or at least the perception of a change in circumstances.
Most states have a rule that child support (and sometimes alimony) can be changed after the divorce is final, but only if one spouse’s circumstances change in a way that can be defined as “significant.” Examples include the payor spouse losing a job, or the payee spouse getting a very good job. A standard measurement for how significant the change must be is about 15%. So, if your ex-husband was making $100,000 per year when you got divorced and now he is making $110,000, there probably has not been a significant enough increase for you to go back to court and win a larger alimony or support order. (Unless you simultaneously suffered a $5000/year pay cut, maybe.)
But, it is a common mistake that people make when they are watching someone else’s money. That extra $10,000 per year might be just enough to have let him start driving a fancier car; maybe take the kids on a cruise, instead of just the usual vacation; or even – heaven forbid! – take his girlfriend on a cruise that did not include the children. This might all be just enough to get an ex-wife’s attention, but not enough to make it worth her while.
Another common misperception is when the new wife (or husband) thinks the first spouse is getting “too good a deal.” A beleaguered husband might be getting an ear-full of “she has all the nicest clothes and jewelry. I think you pay too much child support.” Or a re-married wife might find herself explaining why child support for “his” kid doesn’t stretch as far as it should.
There is not a lot to be done about petty jealousy. People are either pre-disposed to it or they are not. Bringing a motion to the court for every perceived windfall and boondoggle only benefits the lawyers and rarely the parties.
One way to avoid extraneous trips to court, however, might be as simple as a little generosity and an honest accounting. What if the husband in the first example called his ex-wife and said, “I got a small raise. It is not enough that the courts are going to increase my alimony and support payments, but I realize it is enough to take the kids on a nicer vacation. But, before I do that, would you like me to pay for their summer camp, instead? Or, can I send you a check for an extra week’s support to do something nice for yourself, or for the kids?” It might only make a greedy person even greedier; or it might show the kind of goodwill that makes friends out of ex-wives.
Regardless of how your ex finds out that you are making more money; one way to put them on the detective trail is with a lot of in-your-face expenses. Maybe keep driving that Hyundai, at least until the kids are out of college.