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Family law modifications: what they are and when you can seek one

A divorce may be final, but the contents of your divorce decree do not have to be. Whether you believe an element of the order treats you unfairly or something in it that made sense at the time is no longer practical or possible, you can go to court to seek a post-decree modification. You can also request a change to a standing child custody or child support order whether or not you and your co-parent were ever married.

Material life changes

To get the court to approve your modification request, you must show that circumstances have materially changed since the original decree was issued. For example, let’s say you have sole custody of your children and your ex pays child support. You just found out that your ex has gotten a new job with a significantly higher salary than they earned at the time of your divorce. You have the option to request a modification to increase the level of child support your kids receive.

Job loss is another common factor. If you have been laid off or terminated from your job, you could be out of work for some time and might have to take a new job with a lower salary. You can no longer afford the child support or spousal support the court ordered you to pay. It may be necessary to ask for a modification to reduce the payments.

Don’t defy the order

Both you and your ex must abide by your current rights and obligations contained in the divorce decree until the court modifies it. Not paying the full amount of child support or refusing to hand over the children for parenting time visits can result in a contempt of court charge and potential jail time. Meanwhile, you and your attorney can work on making a case for a modification or keeping the order as it is if you do not support your ex’s proposed changes.