Child custody, spousal maintenance, and child support are all important court orders in divorce, separation, and paternity cases. Parties may reach these orders through court litigation or mediation outside of court. Although court orders must be followed, the Missouri family law court understands that things in your family’s life can change. A St. Charles modification attorney can help you determine if your life changes qualify you for an order modification.
While there are some orders that can’t be modified, such as division of property or support paid through a lump sum, most orders have guidelines that enable a modification. When you, your co-parent or ex-spouse, or your children experience a substantial and continued change in relevant circumstance, you could request a modification.
How You Can Make a Modification
The two main avenues you can take to modify a court order are through mutual agreement and through court petition.
If you and the other party, whether that is your co-parent and/or ex-spouse, agree on a certain modification, you can each present that change to the court for approval. In most cases, the court will approve the modification when both parties agree, making it the new court order. If the modification is for a child-related order, the modification must also be in the child’s interests.
When you and the other party do not agree on a modification, you both must present your case to the court. Whichever party is petitioning for the modification must show that the modification is a reasonable response to a substantial and continued change in circumstance. A modification to a child-related order must also be in the child’s interest, or the current order must not be in the child’s interest.
A substantial and continued change in circumstance may be situations such as:
- Either party losing their job
- One party losing or gaining income
- Any party’s changing financial needs
- Parental relocation
- Either party’s efforts to become financially self-sustaining
The change must also be relevant to the type of order modification that is requested.
Modifying Spousal Maintenance
When a spousal maintenance order is first created, spouses may include guidelines in it that modify the amount given in certain circumstances. If there is a substantial change in either party’s life that is not listed, spouses will have to go through the modification process. The change must also be continuing, meaning that it is not temporary.
A relevant life change to modify spousal maintenance is a change in income or financial resources. This includes a change in employment, additional resources, remarriage of the paid party, increased financial needs, or the efforts of the paid spouse to become self-sufficient.
Spousal maintenance cannot be modified when it is made non-modifiable, and it cannot be created if one spouse waived their right to spousal maintenance. A modification is also not allowed when the paying spouse deliberately takes action to lower their income or resources to avoid paying maintenance.
Modifying Child Support
Child support payments in Missouri are either made through the Family Support Division (FSD) or through a court order. When the support payments are managed by the family court, only the court can modify them. When the payments are handled by the FSD, either the court or the FSD can modify them. The modifications process within the FSD includes submitting the modification for court approval.
Child support modifications can only be made if they are in the child’s interests, and they rely on one of the following situations:
- The original order was not appropriate for the circumstances.
- The financial resources of either parent have changed.
- The financial needs of the child have changed.
- It has been 3 years since the FSD made or modified the order.
Modifying Child Custody and Visitation
Visitation, also called parenting time, is much easier to modify, and it does not require a substantial change in circumstances. Instead, the modification must be in the child’s interests.
Modifying custody is more complicated, as it requires a continued and substantial change in circumstances that makes the previous order unreasonable. Additionally, the modification must be in the child’s interests.
Q: Can You Modify a Parenting Plan Without Going to Court in Missouri?
A: Parents cannot legally modify a parenting plan without going to court. However, parents can agree on minor changes to parenting plans outside of court and follow these changes together. However, for the changes to be enforceable by the court, they must be approved by the court.
When parents agree on a modification, they can petition the court for the modification. If it is in the child’s interests, the court will likely approve it. Visitation is much easier to modify than custody.
When parents do not agree on a modification, they must each petition the court as to why the order should or should not be modified.
Q: How Far Can a Parent Move With Joint Custody in Missouri?
A: In Missouri, there is no distance that a parent can move a child’s permanent residence without informing the other parent first. The state’s laws on relocation are very strict, and even a short-distance move requires the relocating parent to notify the other parent at least 60 days prior to the move. This notice is not required if the relocation is for less than 90 days, as this is considered temporary.
Once the other parent receives the notice, which must contain significant information about the new location, the parent can allow the move or contest it in court.
Q: When Can You Modify Child Custody in Missouri?
A: You can modify child custody when there is a continued and substantial change in the circumstances of the child or either parent, and the modification is in the child’s interests. A relevant change in circumstances includes:
- The changing age and preference of a child over time
- Different needs of a child
- A change in one or both parent’s ability to support or care for their child
- Either parent’s marriage or remarriage
Q: Can Non-Modifiable Alimony Be Changed in Missouri?
A: No, non-modifiable alimony, or non-modifiable spousal maintenance, cannot be modified in Missouri. Non-modifiable spousal maintenance only exists when spouses reach an agreement outside of court, and it is not assigned by the Missouri courts.
If the separation agreement is determined to be fair and reasonable by the court, the out-of-court agreement becomes enforceable, and anything non-modifiable cannot be modified. It’s important to discuss the terms of a separation agreement with an attorney.
Contact Stange Law Firm
If you are unsure whether your orders can be modified for your situation, talk with the attorneys at Stange Law Firm. We can help you determine the right option for your family and provide you with the compassionate support you need.