Family law is a unique branch of law in that it is possible to modify a decree, whereas this would be impossible in most other kinds of cases. The Missouri court system recognizes the fact that circumstances change over time, and the prevailing circumstances at the time of a divorce can change dramatically. If you have recently divorced in the St. Charles, MO area and there are aspects of your divorce decree that you believe deserve further consideration, an experienced family law attorney can help you determine if there is any potential for a post-judgment modification to your divorce agreement.
What Is a Post-Judgment Modification?
When a civil case or criminal trial concludes, the decree handed down by the court is pretty much final. While, in some cases, it is possible to appeal the court’s decision, it is unlikely for a party to qualify for an appeal and even less likely that a higher court will overturn a lower court’s decision except in light of very severe circumstances, such as the revelation that one spouse wrongfully dissipated or hid assets that would have been subject to division in their divorce.
A post-judgment modification is a unique process in the family law system that allows individuals to alter their divorce, spousal support, and child support and custody agreements after the primary decree has been issued. These are not easy to obtain, and a party applying for a post-judgment modification should be prepared to offer significant proof that the petition is justified and necessary to account for changed conditions.
What Does a Post-Judgment Modification Do?
Basically, a post-judgment modification may change the existing language of a divorce agreement, add new terms and conditions to an existing divorce agreement, cancel certain parts of an agreement, or alter other previously established tenets of a divorce agreement, such as child custody rules or child support payment terms. A post-judgment modification can take several forms. It’s not uncommon for divorced couples to need multiple modifications, like:
- A divorcee can apply for a post-judgment modification due to a change in income. For example, if a noncustodial parent paying child support finds a new job and starts earning substantially more income, it may be possible to compel the noncustodial parent to make larger child support payments.
- If one parent loses their job and finds a new one that influences the divorced parents’ existing child custody arrangement, either parent may apply for a change in their decreed schedule to accommodate a parent’s recent employment and scheduling changes.
- If a child subject to a support and custody agreement develops a new medical condition that entails significant expense, travel, and other support, the parents may convene for a mutual post-judgment modification that ensures their child gets all the support they need with a schedule and set of expectations for both parents in writing.
- When parents move, regardless of distance, they should expect to file for post-judgment modifications to account for their new addresses. Such arrangements may also pertain to travel costs for visiting their parents.
- Financial changes pertaining to a divorced couple’s child may also form grounds for post-judgment modification petitions.
It is vital to remember that the original wording of a divorce agreement could include rules for modifications to take effect. For example, a spousal support agreement may stipulate that support will end as soon as the recipient remarries or if they obtain employment with compensation over a defined threshold. These rules could also apply to child support agreements, so read terms and conditions carefully.
Be Careful When Developing Contracts
Many divorced individuals have sought post-judgment modifications for their divorce decrees over the years. It’s not uncommon for a divorced individual to notice important verbiage in a signed divorce agreement that compels them to apply for a modification. When you work with an experienced family law attorney on your divorce, they will ensure your divorce contract includes as many exclusionary clauses, modification rules, and room for future additions as possible in your contract.
A Missouri family court judge will look at several things when making a determination about a post-judgment modification. First, the judge will weigh the seriousness of the proposed grounds for modification, then review the original divorce agreement. The judge will also review the elements of the proposed change and hear arguments from all involved parties pertaining to the change.
Once a post-judgment modification is approved, it takes place at the time and place designated by the modification order. Some take effect immediately, while some divorced couples seek post-judgment modifications to account for expected future changes.
Tips for Post-Judgment Modification Petitioning
If you recognize the need to apply for a post-judgment modification, it’s essential to keep a few best practices in mind. First, it’s vital to act quickly. While it may feel like a mad dash to gather all the documentation necessary for your petition, it’s important to file for a post-judgment modification as soon as possible.
It’s also a good idea to consider reaching out to your ex-spouse to see if you can create your modification on mutually agreeable terms. This will significantly speed up the process of securing your modification. It also helps to maintain amicable terms with an ex. These discussions can evolve into formal agreements supervised by legal mediators.
Divorced individuals, parents, in particular, should also remember not to attempt to abuse the family court’s provisions for post-judgment modifications. Any former spouse can apply for a post-judgment modification order, but they should continue abiding by the terms of the existing judgment until the modification has been officially approved and implemented. For example, it would be a very bad idea for a parent to demand a modification and to refuse to pay child support until the modification is granted.
Consult a Family Law Expert
Ultimately, post-judgment modifications are often necessary, especially in divorce cases that include child support and child custody arrangements. Having an experienced divorce attorney assess your desire for a post-judgment modification is a great idea. Your attorney can advise you as to whether the grounds for modification that you have chosen are sound and whether you are likely to receive approval for your modification. Your attorney can essentially streamline the whole process of petitioning for a post-judgment order and handle a lot of the legal red tape on your behalf.