Nothing endures but change. – Diogenes
A divorce decree is considered final and binding over both parties, but final doesn’t mean immutable. The court’s final judgment must be based on the circumstances that exist at that moment in time. The court considers each spouse’s income, assets, debts, living situation, location, parenting style, job requirements, etc., as they are at the time.
What Parts of a Divorce Decree are Subject to Modification?
Modification of Property Division
Property division, such as what is going to happen with the house, division of retirement, and allocation of debt, is almost always final when the Decree is filed. The court will often retain jurisdiction to issue orders to enforce the terms of the decree, including issuing additional orders that may be necessary. This usually happens when something unexpected happens after the decree has been filed, such as one party being unable to sell or refinance the house, or if one party doesn’t do something they were supposed to according to the decree. In these cases, the court may issue orders for the parties to take certain actions so that the terms of the decree can be carried out.
The actual division of property cannot be changed, with one exception: if the parties agree and that agreement is filed with the court. This isn’t overly common, but you should know that if both parties can agree to change the terms of property division, the court will respect that agreement so long as it is done correctly.
Modification of Child-Related Issues
Child-related issues such as custody, parenting time, child support, and medical coverage is always reviewable so long as certain facts can be proven and the changes are in the best interest of the children.
In sole custody situations, custody can be modified if there has been a substantial change in the circumstances of the child. Once the court finds that a substantial change in circumstances exists, it can modify custody as appropriate.
In shared parenting plans, the terms of the plan can be modified if it can be shown that the shared parenting plan is no longer in the best interest of the children.
Child support can be modified if the shared parenting plan, custody, or parenting time is modified. Child support can also be modified if there is a significant change in the parties’ income. If child support is recalculated and the difference is 10% more or less than the existing child support, the support amount will be changed.
Like modifying a division of property order, if the parties agree to modify child-related orders, they can submit those changes to the court and the court will generally adopt the changes as court orders so long as those changes are in the best interest of the children.
Modification of Spousal Support
Spousal support is typically modifiable so long as the court retained explicit authority to modify the spousal support if it is justified after the decree has been filed.
There are a few scenarios that will result in automatic termination of spousal support: the remarriage of the person receiving spousal support, the death of either party, or when the spousal support term has ended.
As long as the court retained the ability to modify spousal support, there are two times when modification might be appropriate:
- If the person receiving spousal support cohabitates with an unrelated person with whom they are in a marriage-like relationship (romantically involved and sharing expenses); and
- If there has been a significant change in circumstances that was not considered at the time of the original spousal support award. Changes in circumstances usually involve a change in income, such as retirement or unexpected increase or decrease in one or both of the parties’ incomes.
How Divorce Modification Works
The spouse seeking to modify the decree is called the movant, and the movant must be able to demonstrate that substantial changes have occurred that would justify changing some element of the divorce order. For example, a change in income could lead to a request to modify spousal support or child support. A change in a work schedule could lead to a request to modify child visitation. And a permanent disability could require a modification to both the amount and length of spousal support payments.
Changes in Circumstances
The court will require that any changes be substantial and continuing. “Substantial” is a very subjective word, and what feels substantial to you may not be considered substantial by a court. That’s why it’s always best to start with an experienced and local divorce attorney, who can give you an indication of how the court has ruled in the past on other modification requests. Continuing means the situation is expected to last. A sudden job loss that requires filing for unemployment in the interim is not a continuing change. It is expected that new employment will be sought and gained. If, at that point, the new job pays substantially less, then a continuing and substantial change of situation may exist.
The length of time that has passed since the final divorce decree was issued is also important. It is very rare for a court to consider a modification request within 6 months of a final divorce decree. If either party is unhappy with the final judgment, filing an appeal may be more appropriate than filing for a modification.
Do You Need to Modify Your Divorce Decree?
If your original divorce decree isn’t working for you, it may be time to talk to an experienced divorce attorney about a post-decree modification. You don’t have to suffer and struggle to make support payments you can no longer afford. You don’t have to stay silent when your minor children tell you something concerning about your former spouse’s new partner or friends. If your life – or your former spouse’s life – has changed in significant ways since your final divorce decree was issued, you need to know your rights.
A law firm like Kirkland & Sommers that specializes in family law can help you modify your divorce decree. We’ll help you justify your request for modification and prepare you for what you should expect if you go back to court. Getting you justice is our top priority!
Why Choose Kirkland & Sommers?
The attorneys at Kirkland & Sommers only practice family law. We’re experts in divorce law because it’s all we do. We’re familiar with the courts in a 10-county area, we know how they work, and we know how they tend to rule on certain cases. You’ll be represented by a law firm with more than 100+ years of combined experience in family and divorce law. We are award winning attorneys who have achieved the highest recognition in matrimonial law, and we’ve helped thousands of your friends and neighbors in the greater Miami Valley region with their divorce.
Schedule a Free Consultation!
Don’t just take our word for it, come in, meet us, and see for yourself how we can help you seek justice with a divorce modification. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by talking to an expert divorce attorney at Kirkland & Sommers. Tell us about your situation, and if a divorce modification makes sense for you, we’ll work together to help you improve your situation. Call us today at either our Centerville or West Chester office, or simply click the link below to get started.