Tag Archive for: modifying a divorce decree

While an appeal to a divorce decree must be completed within 30 days, a modification to a divorce agreement can be requested at any time after the divorce. It is not uncommon that, after significant time has passed, circumstances have changed enough to warrant an alteration of the divorce agreement.

If both spouses agree to the changes, the process is fairly simple. The agreement must be in writing and submitted to the court in which the divorce decree was issued. Sometimes there is a hearing to ensure that both parties truly agree, then the judge signs off on the agreement and it becomes a court order. Working together with your lawyer to ensure the divorce agreement is written properly is the easiest and best way to make changes to a divorce agreement.

However, sometimes former spouses cannot agree. In this case, the person who wants the modification must file a motion for modification with the court that issued the divorce and serve it on the other spouse. Getting a modification from a court is not easy because you will have to present proof of significant, long-term, or permanent changes that justify the modification.

Courts rarely modify property or debt distributions in the original divorce agreement, but changes to spousal and child support and changes to custody and visitation are not uncommon. Where children are involved, the person seeking modification must prove that the change is in the best interest of the child.

Reasons for modification of support

A significant change in income is often grounds for modification, whether you are the payer or the receiver. If the payer gets a significantly higher paying position, the receiver may request more spousal or child support. Additionally, if the receiver loses a job, more support could be requested.

Conversely, if the payer loses a job or gets a significantly lower-paying job, the payer can request a decrease in the amount of support paid. This is also true if the payer has more children with a new spouse, demonstrating a need to support other children. One caveat: A parent cannot purposely take a lower-paying job in order to request a change in support. This may be difficult to prove, but if suspected, it could be considered contempt of court.

In the case of child support, the receiver may demonstrate a significant change in the child’s health or condition to warrant an increase in support or the payer may demonstrate that the child now needs less support. In these cases, courts will keep in mind the best interests of the child.

Reasons for modification of custody or visitation

A change in the condition of parents or children can justify a request for modification.

If one parent was ill-fit for joint or sole custody at the time of the divorce and can now prove he or she is fit, a case for modification may be made. However, a formerly unfit parent cannot demand sole custody if the parent who currently has sole custody is still a fit parent.

If a parent who has sole or joint custody becomes unfit, or if any child abuse or substance abuse can be demonstrated, custody provisions can be modified, keeping in mind the best interests of the child.

If your child is spending more time with you than is listed in the custody agreement, you may wish to modify the agreement so that you can legally protect this precious time together. The additional time also means an increase in child expenses on your part, suggesting a need to modify support as well.

Your next steps

In any of these situations, you will need to show significant evidence in order to convince the court to change the agreement. Laws that govern the standards to be met in each case vary from state to state, so be sure to talk to a lawyer who is expert in the divorce laws of the state in which your divorce was issued. We here at Ulmer are experts in Pennsylvania law. Reach out to us to see how we can help you.

A divorce decree is a court order that is final and legally binding on both parties. Besides declaring the marriage legally over, it decides division of property, custody, and support.

Reversing any part of the decision requires an appeal to a higher court here in Bucks and Montgomery Counties. In the case of both parties reconciling and wanting to reverse their divorce entirely, several states will allow reversal, if within a certain timeframe; but for most states, even when the request is mutual, the divorce decree cannot be reversed.

Appealing aspects of the ruling

You can appeal certain decisions of the court, such as support and alimony, child custody, and division of property. However, it cannot be on the basis that you think the judgment is “unfair.” There must be compelling legal reasons.

Choose a lawyer who is experienced in appealing family law cases. Not all lawyers have this experience. Sit down with your lawyer and discuss your options. Legal errors or evidentiary errors are the most successful bases when appealing a ruling. Your lawyer should comb the decision for any errors that might have occurred and explain to you the errors and the standard of review that applies.

Factual errors have to be significant and very well documented to bring about a successful appeal. Division of property is rarely overturned unless clear evidence of fraud or hiding of assets is uncovered.

Modification of the ruling

Life situations change. Sometimes they change so much that the conditions of the divorce should be adjusted, at which point you would file a “motion to modify,” generally in the same court where the original decree was handed down.

Modification of child support:  Major changes in the financial position of the parent or the needs of the child could justify a modification. Examples include the parent getting laid off or the child incurring extensive medical bills.

Modification of spousal support: Spousal support can be modified with regard to the amount or duration of support when there have been significant changes in circumstances for either former spouse. One cannot demand more money simply because the paying spouse has suddenly hit the lottery.  In rare cases an alimony agreement is non-modifiable.

Modification of child custody: A modification can be ordered if the judge determines it is in the best interests of the child. Situations might include the custodial parent’s arrest, strong concerns about neglect or abuse, or a deterioration of living conditions.

Appeals and motions to modify can be legally complicated and emotionally draining. We are experienced in these areas and can guide you through them. Contact us today so we can discuss how we can help you.