Family law involves a wide range of legal matters, from divorce cases and adoptions to child custody negotiations and estate planning. Family law is unique because it allows parties bound by family court orders to revisit their orders in the future as their circumstances change. While most court cases end with ironclad decrees that cannot be changed, family court orders work differently.
An experienced St. Charles, MO family law attorney can help you understand your options for filing post-judgment motions depending on your unique situation. A post-judgment motion can be the best option for ensuring your divorce agreement remains fair and reasonable over time as your life changes. It’s vital to understand the post-judgment motion process in the Missouri family court.
What Is a Post-Judgment Motion?
In the simplest terms, a post-judgment motion mimics an appeal in form and function but is an exclusive legal vehicle of the family court system. The family court systems of Missouri and every other state acknowledge that circumstances can change without warning that render an existing family law decree dysfunctional. The post-judgment motion system exists to replace a conventional appeals process when such a process would be too time-consuming, expensive, and ultimately ineffective for the needs of the people subject to a family law decree.
A post-judgment motion is a formal filing that outlines a party’s reason to believe a family law judgment must be changed to account for a new development. An experienced attorney can help a petitioner determine acceptable grounds for petitioning an adjustment to a family law decree and build the motion on the petitioner’s behalf.
Appeals Vs. Post-Judgment Motion
Most people are familiar with the concept of an appeal when a civil or criminal case ruling does not go as planned. If a court has made a decree but a party subject to the decree disagrees with the ruling, a few options are available to them other than pursuing an appeal to a higher court.
The appeals process can be incredibly demanding for a civil or a criminal case. An appeal is essentially bringing a completed legal case before a higher court to have them determine whether the original court’s ruling was fair and justified. It is very rare for a higher court to overturn a lower court’s decision unless there is clear evidence of due process violations or other procedural variables that bring the integrity of the original case into question.
An appeal is a long, time-consuming, and expensive process that requires arranging a court appearance with a higher court and meeting strict filing deadlines. A post-judgment motion in family court, by comparison, is a very simple process that allows one to adjust an existing decree with supporting evidence.
Potential Reasons for Filing Post-Judgment Motions
The most commonly cited reasons for filing post-judgment motions typically include changes in the needs of the recipients. Typically, this pertains to either a change in income or a change in the supported party’s medical needs. For example, suppose you are the custodial parent receiving child support and discover your child has a chronic medical condition that will require expensive treatment. In that case, you may file a post-judgment motion to have your child support payments increased to account for this change.
On the other side of the table, it is possible for a divorced spouse who is paying child support or alimony to file a post-judgment motion if they experience a life change that interferes with their ability to pay as required. For example, suppose a divorced spouse was paying alimony to their ex based on their income difference and the paying spouse lost their job. In that case, they may justify having alimony adjusted, suspended, or even terminated in some cases.
An experienced attorney can help you determine whether a recent life change could qualify as grounds for adjusting an existing child support, child custody, or alimony arrangement. Your attorney can also provide advice if you believe you must file a post-judgment motion due to another party’s actions, such as your spouse committing a terminating action under your alimony agreement.
What to Expect from the Post-Judgment Motion Filing Process
Filing an appeal or post-judgment motion on a family law order is not as complex as a typical appeal for a civil or criminal matter. Your post-judgment motion will require you to submit specific forms to the court, along with the supporting documentation necessary for making your case. For example, if you are filing a motion for increased child support due to your child’s medical issue, you will need to provide evidence of the medical issue and its reported cost for treatment. If you are filing a motion to reduce your alimony obligation due to losing your job, you may need to provide your firing notice and other financial documentation to prove your inability to pay.
Your attorney can assist in filing your post-judgment motion, including gathering the documentation you will need to provide with your motion. Once filed, you will have a hearing date for your post-judgment motion. This will be where you will make your case. The other parties subject to the order you are attempting to modify have the right to attend this hearing as well. Any failure to respond to a post-judgment motion will likely lead to a summary judgment in favor of the petitioner.
It’s not uncommon for one party to petition for a change to a family law decree and the post-judgment motion process to lead to a compromise between the petitioner and the other parties involved in the decree. It’s also not uncommon for a family law matter to generate multiple post-judgment motions in the years following the order issuing the family law order.
Why You Need Legal Representation
An experienced St. Charles, MO family law attorney is an incredibly helpful asset when you must file a post-judgment motion. Whether you are aiming to receive more support, lower your support obligation, or simply make a reasonable and necessary change to a family law order, your attorney can provide the professional insight and experienced guidance you need to make informed decisions about your family legal matters.
While it is possible to secure a post-judgment motion on your own, having legal representation is highly advisable in any legal situation. Your attorney can ensure your post-judgment motion is filed correctly so that procedural issues do not interfere with the changes you require to your family law order. Your attorney can also assist you during the hearing and help you gather the evidence you need for a solid post-judgment motion.