Family law is a unique area of civil law concerned with legal disputes among family and household members. Divorces are the most common cases processed in the family court system. Typically, when a civil or criminal case ends, the judge’s ruling is all but absolute. It is very difficult to change the outcome of any civil or criminal case without completing a very arduous and time-consuming appeal process. Family law is different. The family court system acknowledges that unexpected changes in a person’s life can dramatically influence their ability to adhere to an existing family court order. While it is possible to appeal a family court ruling, this is often unnecessary as most desired changes can be implemented with a more streamlined process.
If you have recently experienced any major life event that you believe has materially affected an existing family court order, there is a straightforward modification process in place that allows you to file a petition to have your family court order changed to account for this event. The birth of a child, a change in your income, relocation, and many other issues can potentially prompt modification proceedings after divorce.
When Can I File a Petition for Modification?
You have the right to file a petition for modification any time after your divorce order has been finalized, as long as you have legally sufficient reason to do so. If you recently experienced any type of significant change in your life related to your divorce order, you likely have grounds to file a petition for modification. If you are unsure whether you can file for modification, consult your attorney.
Typically, the court will only consider a petition for modification if the petitioner can prove that the reason for the requested change is entirely beyond their control. Consider a few examples of when it would be appropriate to start drafting a petition to modify your divorce order:
- Your divorce order requires you to pay alimony to your ex-spouse, but you suffered a severe injury in a car accident that was not your fault and are left unable to work. You could file a petition to modify your divorce order and terminate your alimony obligation due to this unforeseen event.
- Your ex pays you child support, and you learn that they were recently promoted and received a significant pay increase. Since the court uses current income to calculate each parent’s financial obligation to their children, you could use this as grounds to petition for higher child support payments.
- You have a joint custody agreement with your ex, and they continuously violate the terms of the agreement, failing to pick up or drop off your child at the appropriate times. They have also traveled out of state with your child without your permission. You would not only have grounds to file for a petition to modify your custody agreement in light of these actions but may also have grounds to file contempt proceedings against your ex for their repeated violations of a legal court order.
- You and your ex share custody, and your ex informs you that they have received a job opportunity out of state. They want to move and take your children with them. In this situation, both parents have the right to file petitions for modification. The relocating spouse could petition for sole custody, claiming the move would benefit their children, and the non-relocating parent could file a petition for sole custody, arguing that the move goes against their children’s best interests.
- You are paying alimony to your ex, and the terms of your alimony agreement state that alimony payments terminate when your ex cohabitates with a new partner or remarries. You discover that your ex moved in with their new partner and did not tell you. This would qualify as grounds to petition for termination of your alimony obligation, and you may even have grounds to demand repayment of any alimony paid after they started cohabitating with their new partner.
These are just a few examples of the types of situations that lead people to file petitions to modify their family court orders. If you believe you have encountered a situation that demands a review of your standing family court order, consult your attorney to determine how best to proceed.
How Does Modification Work?
The modification process is straightforward. The petitioner drafts their petition outlining the desired change to the family court order and their explanation of why they believe the change is warranted. The court then, in turn, evaluates the modification petition, and if court officials believe it holds merit, they will set a hearing date. At this hearing, the petitioner and the respondent have the chance to speak on the issue.
The petitioner may need to provide additional evidence and testimony to support their proposed modification, and the respondent has the ability to offer contradictory evidence or testimony to prevent the court from approving the modification. Typically, this first hearing is all this is required for a modification. The judge overseeing the hearing will listen to both parties and rule on the proposed modification.
Technically, you do not need an attorney to help you with a petition for modification, but having your attorney help you draft your petition will significantly increase your chances of the court granting you the modification hearing as well as successfully securing the changes you desire to your family court order. An experienced attorney will also know what kind of supporting documentation and evidence you may need to submit with your petition for modification.
It’s common for people beholden to family court orders to require multiple modifications to these orders over several years. Unexpected injuries and illnesses, changes in income, and the actions of parties involved in an order can all prompt modification proceedings. If you believe you have encountered a situation that demands further review of an existing family court order or establishes grounds for a modification of your family court order, contact a reliable family law attorney as soon as possible for valuable guidance concerning the modification process.