Sometimes circumstances change after the judge signs your divorce decree, which lays out the terms of your divorce. It can be difficult to alter the terms of your divorce unless you can show the court the modification or appeal is justified. Once the divorce decree is signed, you have the right to file an appeal the terms of the divorce or a motion to modify certain specific terms. An appeal must be filed within thirty days of the original judgment. Modifications can be requested at any time after the divorce is finalized.
If both parties agree to the appeal or modification, we charge $600 to $800 to file the necessary paperwork for you and there is a filing fee as well. As long as both parties agree then it doesn’t matter if there has been a substantial change or not, the judge will usually grant it since it is by agreement. If one party does not agree to a modification, we charge at least a $2,500 retainer to file it on your behalf. It can be difficult to alter the terms of your divorce since you will have to show the court a convincing reason why you want to modify your divorce. The most common type of modification involves child support and spousal support. They usually require some type of life change in order to modify (e.g., significant change in income, major medical event, etc.).
To alter the terms of your divorce decree, one party much file a Petition to Modify the decree. If you and your ex-spouse agreed on the term in question during the divorce process, then the petition would be to change certain aspects of the agreement. If you and your ex-spouse did not agree on the term in question and the term was decided by a judge, then you would petition to change the judge’s decision. In the latter instance, even if you and your ex-spouse agree on the proposed change, you’ll still have to convince the judge to modify the court’s order. If you and your ex-spouse do not agree on the proposed change, you’ll have to argue against your ex-spouse and argue your case to the judge why your proposed change is necessary. If it is a prior agreement to be amended without both parties agreeing to the change, then you will need to show a change in circumstances that justifies the proposed change.
If you and your ex-spouse do not agree on the proposed modification, you will need to file your Petition to Modify without an agreement and it will be set for a hearing. At the hearing, your ex-spouse can object to the changes and the two of you can litigate the issue to have the judge determine the contested issues for you. This can cost quite a bit in attorney fees, but either party can always file a Petition to Modify and have a hearing even without having reached an agreement with the ex-spouse. If you have reached an agreement in your divorce and file a Petition to Modify a few months after your divorce decree was entered, you may have difficulty since you agreed to the Settlement Agreement just a few months prior and now want to change it. There has likely not been enough time passed for there to be a substantial change in circumstances.
When you agree to a Settlement Agreement in a divorce, it is a binding contract between you and your ex-spouse. Like any contract, you agreed to it at the time, so a judge is not going to let you out of the contract very easily. The more time that has passed since you agreed to the contract, the more likely a judge is to let you alter parts of it or get out of certain aspects of the agreement as situations are more likely to change significantly over a period of time.
Sometimes if former spouses still get along well, they may informally decide to change or modify certain terms of their divorce. For example, they may make informal adjustments to how they divide their property, how much one party pays the other for child support, and custody plans. It is not advisable for you to do this. If one spouse changes their mind, they can go back and hold you to the original terms and potentially get the court involved. Maybe you were getting along fine with your ex-spouse, and they decided you could keep the car, even though they got it in the divorce. Well, maybe you start dating again and they hear about it and get jealous. They can demand the car back, and you have to give it to them unless you want law enforcement at your door. Stick to the terms of your divorce and if you do find yourself in need of modification, contact us so we can get it done for you the right way.
Attorney Steven A. Harris regularly blogs in the areas of family law, bankruptcy, and real estate closings on this website. He is always available in any of the firm’s offices or by phone anytime for a consultation. Mr. Harris tries to provide informative information to the public in easily digestible formats. Hopefully you enjoyed this article and feel free to supply any feedback. We appreciate our readers and love to hear from you!