How to change a Missouri divorce settlement or decree

On behalf of Stange Law Firm, PC posted in Family Law on Friday, December 19, 2014.

Ordinarily, when a couple divorces, they do so because at least one of the spouses wants to get a fresh start with his or her life apart from the other. The key to this objective is a divorce settlement or decree that both sides can accept as final, so that the issues that led to the divorce do not have to keep being revisited.

Life, however, is an ongoing process of changes in people, places and circumstances. Sometimes, these changes can force a divorced couple to reconsider aspects of their divorce settlement or decree.

Fortunately, just as the law allows for contracts to be modified after they are signed, so too does Missouri law provide for former spouses to change the provisions of the framework of how they relate to one another post-divorce. The standard mechanism to do this is a petition to modify.

The need to modify a divorce arrangement can arise in several ways. The loss of a job can make an established spousal or child support obligation no longer feasible; a custodial parent remarrying and wishing to relocate with the children to another town or state can come into conflict with visitation provisions; or a non-custodial parent can become concerned with the lifestyle or other circumstances of the custodial parent and the effects these may have on the children, for example concerns about drug abuse or domestic abuse.

A petition to modify a divorce settlement or decree is generally the same as any other court petition: the person seeking the change files the petition with the court, ordinarily the same court that handled the divorce, the petition is legally served on the other party, and that party has an opportunity to respond.

The parties then proceed to negotiations or a hearing through which the petition is granted, denied or is itself modified into a new arrangement between the spouses.

Because a divorce modification petition is subject to the adversarial judicial system, it is usually a good idea for the person seeking the modification to have the assistance of a family law attorney in crafting the petition and seeing it through the legal process.

This is especially so if the other former spouse may contest the changes and either has an attorney or can reasonably be expected to retain one.

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