A divorce becomes final either through a settlement agreement or a court decision. Yet, even the symbolic conclusiveness of a divorce decree does not mean your divorce terms can never be revisited. Over time, a family's circumstances may change. When transformations occur, it may be time to make adjustments. If this is you, you may be wondering, for example, how to alter your divorce decree once your situation has changed. The good news is that there are options.
Under Massachusetts law, you may modify your divorce agreement to better reflect the changing circumstances of your life. Obtaining a divorce modification is not always easy, but with the help of the right attorney, you could be well on your way toward fairer child support, child custody, visitation and alimony terms.
How to Modify a Divorce Judgement
The first and most important step is to retain a lawyer. An experienced family law attorney can help you proceed through legal technicalities associated with your case. Next, this professional can secure a copy of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Department's Complaint for Modification form for you. This will ask you for contact information and your ex-spouse's name. It may also request information regarding your divorce settlement, including the original terms of the judgment.
A portion of this form will cover the type of modification that you wish to pursue. Generally, the form includes one selection for child support modifications and one box for other legal matters. You will also need to provide information regarding your change of circumstances or the reason for your desired modification. For example, you might mention changes in your financial situation, which have resulted from job loss. This may make payment obligations of the original divorce decree more difficult to complete.
When it comes to child custody and visitation, relocation of one of the parents, a change in the work schedule of a parent, or the child's environment becoming unsafe (for example, if a new boyfriend or girlfriend of one of the parents is a drug user) could all be reasons for a modification.
Alimony, otherwise known as spousal support, is unique in that significant changes to Massachusetts alimony laws went into effect in March 2012. Now, alimony generally can be ended when the payer reaches retirement age or when the recipient begins living with a romantic partner. In addition, there is a new formula for determining alimony based on the length of the marriage. Finally, lifetime alimony has been abolished - Massachusetts residents paying it may file for modification beginning in 2013.
Another portion of the document will provide room for new terms. You may work with your attorney to develop a proposal for a new schedule or plan. In this portion of the modification request, you will need to detail the terms that you wish the court to approve.
Finally, you will need to sign and date the completed form and provide copies for all parities. The completed form should be brought to the local court that issued the original divorce order. You may need to pay fees for the filing. At this time, you should obtain a domestic relations summons from the court clerk.
Next, you will follow any relevant Massachusetts court rules pertaining to service. Eventually, you will be given an official court date where you will be able to discuss your modification request with a judge.
Typically, only issues involving minor children, alimony and health insurance can be modified; the survival language in the divorce agreement/judgment is essential to that analysis. Property division is always final. A divorce modification is not the same as an appeal. While parties to a divorce may appeal a trial court's decision to a higher court, it is extremely rare for an appellate judge to overturn a divorce ruling.
Furthermore, if both parties agreed to a settlement agreement, they are usually prohibited from filing an appeal. A divorce modification is a very different process than an appeal. When you file a complaint for modification, you are asking the trial court itself to change the terms of your divorce decree.
Don't Wait to Get Help!
While these are the basic, initial steps for modifying your divorce decree, there are several administrative and legal issues, which would best be left to an experienced attorney. If your new situation means that it will be difficult to proceed with the decree, as is, then you need to ensure that amendments are made in accordance with the law. If you would like to learn more about the process, take the time to speak to a qualified family law attorney in your area.
Don't wait to get started on your case today. Contact us for a free consultation now.