In general, appealing the divorce decree is a costly endeavor. However, a modification is far less expensive and is a viable option to change certain aspects of the divorce decree. Such aspects include property division, spousal support (alimony), child support, child custody arrangements, and visitation.
A request for a change is done by filing a “motion to modify” the divorce decree or judgment. This motion is generally filed with the same court where the divorce judgment was issued in the first place. Most states provide forms; it is suggested to check with your local state and county courts to see if they are accessible. When compiling your motion to modify you must show changed circumstances that justify such a change. For example, loss of a job or a promotion can be grounds for modifying spousal or child support. Each state has its guidelines about the modification process and the required proof for the modification to succeed.
If you desire to change the number of your spousal support obligations, also known as “alimony,” you will need to prove that you have experienced a substantial financial change which causes you to be unable to continue making those payments. In most scenarios, the party moving for modification has the burden of proof.
Moreover, the divorce process, in general, is lengthy and mentally draining. If you had agreed to certain things before, life can change after you sign your divorce agreement. These changes can and should be brought to the court’s attention to ensure that all parties to the divorce are treated equally. When ongoing, substantial life changes happen and justify a change in the divorce orders, the appropriate paperwork must be filed to make any modifications as mentioned earlier.
Furthermore, modifying child custody can also be completed, but it is challenging. Courts have a presumption that the original custody arrangements were accurate and they are typically reluctant to make custody changes. However, if it is in the best interest of the child and there are changed circumstances that warrant a change necessary, the judges are more willing.
Once the petition for modification has been finished, it must be filed with the court and served on your spouse. Then, the court will schedule a hearing date and you will be able to present your case. If you and your spouse agree that a modification is needed, you should attach the agreement to your petition and the court may make the modifications without a court appearance.
What are the Grounds for a Divorce Decree Modification?
Changes that may warrant a post-decree modification include the following:
- If you have lost your job, you may be entitled to a reduction in your spousal support amount;
- If your former spouse suddenly begins to make a substantially higher income, you may be entitled to a reduction or termination of your spousal support obligations;
- If your cost of living changes, you may be eligible to seek a reduction of your obligations in certain cases;
- If you have experienced a significant change in your health that inhibits you from making the previously ordered spousal support amount, it can be modified. You will need to prove to the court that the change is substantial, and provide evidence of the costs of your new health condition;
- If your former spouse remarries, your spousal support obligations will end;
- If your former spouse passes away, you will no longer be required to provide spousal support and;
- Changing your spousal support obligations requires specific proof.
Keep in mind that states can vary on these factors depending on their rules regarding post-decree modifications for alimony. In Vermont for example, while the divorce is pending, the court may issue one or more temporary orders involving the care of the child or children, support, or financial matters. However, these orders are considered temporary. They expire once the final divorce order or new order of the court is issued. The court will usually be reluctant to change a temporary order unless something significant has occurred from the time the court issued the order. It is important to note that your disagreement with the order is not a valid reason to request the court to change it.
After the final hearing, the court issues a final order. Once any appeals are accepted or the period for appealing has ended, this order is final. Generally, a court will not consider modifying a final order without a valid, substantial, and unanticipated change of circumstances. A change is considered unanticipated if it is not what was expected at the time of the final divorce. Again, it is important to research the local rules in your state with the help of a family law attorney to understand the nuisances. The party that desires to modify the order must prove that the change was real, substantial, and unanticipated.
What is a Showing in Change of Circumstance to Obtain a New Alimony Order?
If your settlement agreement or alimony order does not address the issue of when alimony can be modified, then either spouse is welcome to ask for a change to alimony by filing a request with the court. Before you head to court, you might try communicating with your former spouse to cooperate for an agreement about a reduction in support.
Explain your circumstances and gauge the situation to reduce or temporarily postpone support payments. If you can work this out with your former spouse, draft your agreement in writing and submit it to a court for approval. If the court accepts the reduced amount, a judge will issue a new alimony order and approve the new amount.
If for some reason you are unable to agree, you will need to ask a court for assistance. A paying spouse who can no longer afford the previous alimony payments must prove why the reduction is justified. To convince a judge to reduce or even terminate alimony, the paying spouse must show a significant change in the financial circumstances of one or both spouses, such as:
- Involuntary loss of employment or wage reduction;
- An illness or disability that prevents the paying spouse from working in their usual capacity;
- Supported spouse has remarried or is cohabiting with a new partner;
- Supported spouse has experienced an increase in income and;
- The change in circumstances must be significant because a judge will not grant a reduction based on a minor adjustment to either spouse’s income or other financial resources.
Some of these factors coincide with the ones mentioned above. However, not all states follow the same factors therefore it is crucial to understand the local state’s guidelines before proceeding in these matters. Typically, when you file a motion to decrease alimony, you submit documents that detail your financial information, including income, expenses, assets, and debts. Your former spouse will have to do similar due diligence with the response to your request. You can locate links to the documents you need to file on your local court’s website.
Once a motion to modify alimony has been filed, the court will permit the spouses to conduct “discovery,” meaning each will be entitled to question the other to produce any additional financial documentation required to demonstrate the ability to pay support and/or the need for financial support, such as pay stubs, tax returns, and financial statements.
When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?
If you have a divorce decree that outlines an alimony amount and due to some life changes you need to modify it now. There are some legal options available for you. It is recommended to seek out a local family attorney to further assist you with the process.