Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What Change of Circumstances Can Require Modification of a Court Order?

During the divorce process, separating couples have to agree on a number of issues, such as spousal support (alimony), child support, and child custody and visitation schedule. Couples make these decisions based on their individual circumstances at the time of separation, but life happens, and things may change in the future. So how much change needs to happen for one of the ex-spouses to request a change of the prior divorce decree?

First of all, it's important to understand that the court doesn't let ex-spouses modify a previous court order, "just because." The spouse requesting the change has to show "a substantial and continuing change of circumstances", either in his/her life or in the other spouse's life. Those circumstances depend on many circumstances, including changes in income, employment or schedule, issues with child welfare and well-being, home location change, remarriage, etc.

In the case of spousal support, a court order may be changed if the spouse getting the support no longer needs it, or if the spouse paying for the spousal support suffers an income drop, loses his/her job, or is unable to work and can no longer afford to pay the original amount. Also, if the spouse receiving support gets remarried, the spousal support will have to end. Like in many other divorce settlement issues, it always takes less time and costs less money if spouses can reach agreement on a new amount on their own. Otherwise the spouse requesting the change has to file a motion with the court. Once the spouses reach an agreement, they simply give their written stipulation to the judge to be entered as a new court order.

The same goes for child support and child visitation orders. Child support payment amounts can increase or decrease over time, depending on each parent's financial ability to cover the children's needs. Substantial changes include income increase or decrease for one or both parents, the children's educational or healthcare needs, if either parent is incarcerated, or if a parent has another child from another relationship. Changes in child visitation schedules can also be a valid reason to request a new court order. For example, a parent may spend more time with the children than originally decided. Or parents may move their home further away and not be able to spend regular time with the child but instead only periodic visits on holidays or for prolonged times during the summer months.

Just like spousal support, parents are encouraged to reach an agreement together on a new amount of child support or a new visitation schedule to submit to the judge. It is always in everybody's best interest (money wise and time wise) to settle these order changes out of court. A family mediator can be very helpful not only during the divorce process, but also post-divorce, as family circumstances can change over time. Preserving healthy communications between ex-spouses can help solve many problems now and in the future in a prompt and civil manner.

To learn more about the mediation process, complete our request for a free online evaluation, and to receive a free 30-minute phone consultation, visit us at, or call 619-702-9174.
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