Modification of Court Orders
Filing for divorce is only the first step in a long, emotional journey. When the divorce proceedings are done, and the court has issued a Decree of Divorce that officially ends your marriage, it might seem like everything is over. Oftentimes, this is the case, and nothing more happens. However, there are circumstances that can resurrect the divorce proceeding, and bring it back to court.
Essentially, the Decree of Divorce in Texas is an agreement between you and your ex-spouse to end your relationship. It’s backed up by the court, and contains promises and other agreements related to your divorce, such as how to divide your marital property, who will provide spousal support, and who has custody of your children.
However, if you fall on hard times, or encounter certain life situations such as a job transfer, or something else happens that makes it difficult or impossible to keep to the original agreements in the Decree of Divorce, you can file a suit to modify certain parts of the Decree.
Nearly all of the terms in a Decree of Divorce can be altered or modified by the court at a later date. One of the few exceptions to this is the division of your marital property, which can only be challenged after the Decree is issued in a very limited number of circumstances. However, if the change to the Decree has to do with an ongoing issue, like child support payments or visitation rights, then it can be modified by the court through a modification suit, so long as the court finds that there has been a material and substantial change in the circumstances, to warrant the modification.
Material and Substantial Change Requirement
In order for a modification suit to even get off the ground, you would have to prove that someone’s circumstances – either yours, or your ex-spouse’s, or your child’s – have gone through an important and relevant change. While courts rule what is a “material and substantial change in circumstances” on a case-by-case basis, meaning there are no cut-and-dried rules for what is and what is not “material and substantial,” certain changes are typically seen as important enough to warrant a modification to the Decree of Divorce. These include:
- You or your ex-spouse moving across the country, and requesting a modification to their visitation rights,
- A significant increase or decrease in your or your ex-spouse’s income that makes it easier or more difficult to make support payments,
- Changes in the expenses associated with raising and supporting your children, such as increased health insurance payments after an injury or sickness, or college tuition savings,
- You or your ex-spouse have remarried
Process and Effect of Modification
The modification process begins by filing a petition with the court, and delivering it to all of the other parties affected by the proposed modification. In some circumstances, the court will issue a temporary order, and make a change to the Decree that has immediate effect. However, most judges only do this if it’s clear that it’s in the best interest of any children affected by the proposed modification.
If the proposed modification to the Decree cannot be settled or resolved, then a final hearing is scheduled. This hearing is a little like a trial, but without some of the formality. There can, however, be a jury if you request one and the hearing is to determine custody issues. Typically, though, the judge will make the decisions.
If you can successfully show that there have been material and significant changes to the circumstances, and that the modifications to the Decree would resolve these changes in the best interest of the parties, then the judge will rule in your favor and modify the Decree. This will result in the issuance of an Order Modifying Prior Orders, which overrules some of the terms in your Decree of Divorce, but leaves the rest intact.
Oftentimes, the parties to a divorce make informal, unofficial changes to their Decree of Divorce, solving small problems on their own without going through the court to make an official change. While this agreement is the first step to making an official modification, the lack of the court’s stamp of approval means that it will not be enforced by the court.
This is important because any agreement that’s unofficially made is thrown out the window, if a court has to come into the picture later on to enforce or modify the Divorce Decree. Therefore, if you lose your job after the divorce, and your ex-spouse agrees to accept only half of the support payment specified in the Decree until you find another job, but then a disagreement arises and the case gets brought back into court, the court could require you to pay the entire amount, according to the Decree. The court could even hold you in contempt for failing to follow through on your obligations under the Decree.
Because of this risk, it’s always a good idea to make important modifications to your Decree of Divorce official before the court. This prevents a change-of-heart from hurting you in the future, and allows any agreements that you’ve made after the Decree to get enforced by the court.
Dreyer & Mazsheri
The ability to modify your Decree of Divorce is an important one. It gives you the option of taking action and changing your divorce agreement, if you’ve fallen on difficult times, or if it becomes clear that the arrangements you’ve made don’t suit the current state of things. The availability of making a modification to a Decree of Divorce can get you out of a sticky financial situation.
Having experienced and able family law attorneys on your side during the modification process can vastly improve your ability to get what you want, and what you need. Dreyer & Mazsheri understand the best ways to negotiate your case with the other parties, and to argue your case before the court. Their experience can make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful modification proposal. If you need to modify your Decree of Divorce, call their law office at (210) 239-9420.
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