March 7, 2014. Unlike property settlements in a divorce case, spousal support can be modified if a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled today in Sisson v. Sisson, that a significant illness was a change in circumstances and warranted an increase in spousal support. In this case, the wife developed an incurable blood cancer. Due to limitations in her work ability and her medical costs, the court increased the spousal support amount from $500 a month to $1,600 a month for the remainder of her life. How did the court decide to increase the amount? The court based the increase on the best available understanding of the wife’s future financial needs during her life expectancy.
When considering a change in spousal support, the court will look at changes in employment, income, earning capacity, health and medical expenses. The changes must be significant, permanent, and not within the contemplation of the court at the time of the decree. In this case, the wife had planned to go back to school to become a cosmetologist. Due to her illness and the hand tremors caused by the illness, this was not realistic. She obtained employment, but at a lower pay then anticipated at the time of the divorce. Therefore, the court cited these grounds for the modification.