Once a divorce proceeding is finalized, there may be some lingering legal issues, as divorce is only the beginning of life-long changes that can take some time to fully resolve.
Some various post divorce legal issues include:
- Spousal support modification;
- Moving to a different state;
- Unresolved property issues;
- Issues associated with estate planning and wills; and
- Remarriage, as the legal effects of remarriage can affect child support, child visitation, and
- inheritance through a will.
New issues may also arise after the divorce. An example of this would be how if new information surfaces after divorce, such as information about joint business ventures, the parties may need to review their legal options.
As was previously mentioned, property distribution may pose another issue post divorce. Generally speaking, property that is owned separately by one party will be retained by them at the end of the divorce process. Alternatively, property that was acquired jointly by the couple during their marriage will generally be considered shared property, and will usually be split 50-50 between the two parties.
Inheritances from a will, family heirlooms, and property acquired through a trust will generally be labeled as separate property. The marital home, other jointly-owned property, and any income earned during the marriage will generally be classified as shared marital property.
Some states follow what is referred to as “community property” laws. In these states, the property and money will be split equally between the two spouses. Other states follow some version of an “equitable distribution” scheme, in which the property and money will be divided by a court in a manner that is determined to be “fair” and “equitable.”
When the court must decide how to distribute the property, the judge will consider matters such as:
- Whether the couple signed a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement;
- How long the marriage lasted; and
- The financial background of each individual spouse.
Can the Ruling of a Divorce Judgment Be Modified?
Spousal support may change after the divorce according to the needs of either person. An example of this would be how if either one of the parties obtained a different job, or lost a job, the appropriate amount of support may need to be adjusted. Additionally, spousal support may be modified or even canceled if the receiving party gets remarried.
Once a judge has set an amount and schedules those payments, the other spouse is legally obligated to abide by those orders. If something happens that dramatically changes the economic position of either spouse involved, either spouse may petition the court for the alimony order to be modified. Or, they can petition to eliminate the spousal support payments altogether.
It is important to note that for any modification request with the court, the circumstances surrounding the original case must have undergone a substantial or material change. The person seeking the modification must generally prove that there has been significant change before any increases, decreases, or elimination will be considered. The spouse that is petitioning for the modification may do this by providing sufficient evidence to the court which proves that there has been a significant change in their circumstances.
The petitioning spouse may also prove that there has been a significant change in the other spouse’s economic position, so that changing the order would be the only fair option. However, it is imperative that the paying spouse continue to make their scheduled payments, as failure to do so could result in being held in contempt of court.
Examples of what constitutes significant life changes include:
- Loss of employment, or significant decrease in income;
- Cost of living increase;
- A physical or mental disability manifests and affects the spouse’s ability to work;
- A significant financial emergency, or sudden financial hardship;
- A significant increase in one spouse’s income, such as a raise, promotion, or change in job; or
- Medical emergencies, which applies to either a spouse’s ability to pay or increased need of support for the receiving spouse.
Specific changes in living arrangements may also affect spousal support payments. An example of this would be how if the receiving spouse moves in with a new partner, the paying spouse may petition the court to lower or eliminate support payments. This is because cohabitation generally indicates that the receiving spouse is now combining their income with their new partner, putting them in a better financial position.
New support obligations may also constitute a modification. An example of this would be if a new child is involved, and the paying spouse must also pay child support. Additionally, a support modification may be warranted by a change in alimony laws in your specific jurisdiction.
Moving can affect issues like child custody or visitation. When the parents do not live in the same state as the child, the court can set up an interstate custody schedule to ensure that they are able to meet. Determining interstate child custody can be considerably difficult, and working with an experienced lawyer in your area will assist in resolving these complexities.
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”) is accepted by most states. Under the UCCJEA, the determining factor concerning which state has jurisdiction over the matter is where the child lives, or where the child has resided for the six months prior to the filing of the action.
Any parent wanting to obtain custody must also reside in the state in which the custody action is filed for at least six months before filing the action. If the child has not been living in any one state for the six months before the filing of a custody action, the court will evaluate whether the child and one of the parents have an especially strong connection to one state in order to determine the jurisdiction.
How Can I Prepare for a Divorce Proceeding?
Preparing for a divorce proceeding generally involves collecting documentation to support your claim. As with any legal claim, it is important that the parties understand which information to compile before filing for divorce.
However, in a divorce proceeding, this becomes even more important as the parties must work in a cooperative manner for the results to be fair and efficient. Each party will be required to exchange information and documents associated with property distribution, assets, and child custody and visitation rights.
Often, some information is considered to be “privileged,” or confidential. As such, it cannot be accessed by the other party or their lawyer. Compiling information before the divorce can help you stay organized and prepared for any issues that might arise during the court proceedings.
Many different types of documents and information can serve as evidence during the trial, should the matters be contested by the opposing party. More specifically, the areas of property distribution, listing of assets, and child-related expenses are among the most heavily contested matters during the typical process of divorce.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Post-Divorce Legal Issues?
You should hire a post-divorce lawyer if you discover any legal issues or concerns after a divorce proceeding, especially if the opposing party is represented by an attorney. Your attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws, and will represent you in court as needed.