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Modifications

There are numerous reasons that a divorce decree or any other order of the court regarding a domestic matter might need to be changed at a later date.  Indeed, circumstances that made an order fair at the time might change enough that the original terms are no longer fair.  When such a change occurs, the party which is adversely affected can file a motion to modify.  For example, after a judgment is made as to child support, the income of the parties can change so much that a new amount of support should be established. Generally, the court will order a change when the new support amount, as calculated by the guidelines, would be 20% more (or less than) the amount of support last ordered by the court.   This can occur when one of the parties experiences a large increase in income.  However, the most common reason lately is that one of the parties becomes unemployed or underemployed.  As such, that parent may no longer be able to realistically afford the child support previously ordered.

Custody orders may need to be modified as well.  Often, circumstances change over the years to a point where the last order is no longer in the best interests of the child(ren).  This can occur for a variety of reasons such as improper conduct by one of the parents that might be detrimental to the child, a change in living circumstances which makes the visitation schedule unworkable, or even the wishes of a child as he/she becomes old enough to express a preference.

Court orders to pay maintenance (also known as alimony) also might be subject to a modification if relevant circumstances have changed in a “substantial and continuing” way. This depends on the type of maintenance ordered (such as permanent vs. temporary).  For example, if a court had ordered maintenance paid to a spouse for three years after a divorce, then that order is probably not modifiable unless the judge made it so in the initial order.  Permanent orders of maintenance (lasting until the death of one of the parties or the remarriage of the receiving spouse) are generally modifiable.  Conversely, a maintenance agreement entered into willingly by both spouses is generally not modifiable.

Courts do not retain the authority to modify judgments dealing with the division of property after a divorce, once that divorce is final.  This is very important to remember when negotiating the division of property in divorce.  In other words, it should be considered carefully and be done correctly and fairly the first time because there are no second chances.