Can the Grounds for Divorce Be Modified If I Don’t Agree With Them?
Getting divorced can be an extremely difficult and emotional process. Once the divorce is finalized and a divorce decree issued, you may feel a sense of relief that it’s over. However, as time passes, you may come to realize that you’re unhappy with some aspects of the divorce settlement. This leads many people to wonder – can I modify the terms of my divorce decree if I don’t agree with them?
The short answer is yes, it is possible to modify a divorce decree under certain circumstances. However, the grounds for requesting a modification are limited in most states, including California. This makes it critical to approach the initial divorce proceedings with care and foresight.
What Aspects of a Divorce Decree Can Be Modified?
There are three main aspects of a divorce decree that may be eligible for modification:
- Child custody and visitation
- Child support
- Spousal support
Let’s look at each of these in more detail:
Child Custody and Visitation
If you wish to modify child custody or visitation terms, you must demonstrate that there has been a significant change in circumstances affecting the child’s best interests. Examples could include:
- One parent relocating far away
- A change in a parent’s work schedule impacting time with the kids
- Remarriage and step-children introduced into the home
- A parent developing a substance abuse problem
The court will only approve changes that are in the best interests of the child. If both parents agree to the change, it’s simpler to get approved. If not, you must file a request with the court and provide evidence for the needed modification.
Child support can be modified if a change in circumstances substantially alters the paying parent’s ability to make payments. For instance:
- A parent losing their job
- A significant increase or decrease in a parent’s income
- A change in custody that changes the amount of time each parent has with the child
The change must be material and lasting. Temporary setbacks like a short-term job loss typically won’t warrant a modification. The court will look at both parents’ financial situations holistically.
Modifying spousal support also requires demonstrating a significant change in circumstances. Examples include:
- A major change in income for either spouse
- Disability preventing working
- Remarriage (which can terminate spousal support)
How Do I Request a Modification?
- For child custody, you must file a “Request for Order” asking for the change.
- For child or spousal support, you file a motion to modify those terms specifically.
- Your request must clearly explain what change in circumstances warrants the modification. Supporting documentation should be included (e.g. job loss).
- The other party will be notified and given a chance to object to the proposed changes.
- If the parties disagree, the court will hold a hearing to evaluate the evidence and make a determination.
- The judge has discretion whether to approve the modification request.
- While you don’t need an attorney, having one greatly improves your chances of success. The process is complex and you want to present your case in the strongest light possible. An attorney who specializes in family law can help craft the most compelling argument.
Alternatives to Modification
Instead of pursuing a modification, you and your ex-spouse do have some alternatives, such as:
- Informal agreement: You can mutually agree to alter certain divorce terms, such as adjusting child support or visitation informally. However, the court order remains unchanged. It’s risky to violate the decree, even with an informal agreement.
- Mediation: You can voluntarily go through mediation to see if you’re able to come to a new agreement about changing certain terms. If successful, you then file to modify the decree formally.
- Temporary orders: For issues like child support, you can request temporary relief from payments if you’re going through a temporary hardship like job loss. This is easier than permanently modifying the decree.
Mistakes to Avoid
When seeking to modify your divorce decree, some common mistakes include:
- Failing to follow proper procedures and just acting unilaterally, which violates the court order.
- Insufficiently demonstrating the substantial change in circumstances warranting the change.
- Seeking modifications too frequently, which will frustrate the court.
- Attempting to modify terms that cannot be changed, like property division.
- Failing to compromise reasonably during negotiations and court proceedings.
While divorce decrees are intended to be permanent, several key aspects can be modified if your circumstances change substantially. The grounds are limited, so research your options thoroughly before filing for divorce to make informed decisions. If later you want changes, move quickly to consult a lawyer experienced in family law. With proper evidence and legal help, you may be able to successfully alter child custody, support, or alimony terms by filing a modification request with the court.