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Post-Decree Modifications

Understanding Post-Decree Modifications

Even after the final child custody decree or child support decree has been issued, life circumstances can change, causing your original custody schedule or support plan to become outdated and unsuitable for your new life circumstances. To update your child custody or child support decree, you will need to file a post-decree modification, which is a legal mechanism for one party to petition the court to update the decree. The process can be quick and straightforward if both parents agree, or adversarial and drawn out if the parents disagree. 

Common Reasons for a Post-Decree Modification

  1. Child Custody: Common reasons to modify a child custody decree include (i) a significant change in the life of one of the parents, such as moving to a new city, (ii) if one of the parents marries a new spouse, (iii) the preference of the child, if the child is old enough, (iv) allegations of abuse or neglect by one of the parents, or (v) a decline in the health of one of the parents. 
  2. Child Support: Common reasons to modify a child support decree include (i) a significant change in one parent’s income, (ii) a significant change in a child’s ongoing needs, such as an increase in educational or medical expenses for the foreseeable future, (iii) a significant change in the distribution of parenting time, (iv) a change in the allocation between the parents of certain childcare expenses, such as health insurance or daycare, or (v) if one of the parents has a new child with a different parent. 

The Process of the Post-Decree Modification

To initiate a post-decree modification, it is first necessary to file a motion. The motion will contain the original case details and explain why a change to the custody and/or support decree is necessary. The parent who initiated this motion must also notify the other parent of their intent to pursue a post-decree modification. Once the other parent has been notified, the parents may schedule a hearing before a judge in family court.

How the post-decree modification proceeds will depend on whether the parents agree or disagree on the proposed modification. 

  1. Agreement between Parents: If both parents agree on the proposed changes to the custody or support decree, then the process is straightforward. The parents may jointly submit a proposed custody or support plan that outlines their desired changes. The court will review this proposal and most likely approve it, provided that the proposal is reasonable and in the best interests of the child.
     
  2. Disagreement between Parents: If the parents do not agree on the proposed changes to the custody or support decree, then the process will be longer and more complex. The parent seeking modification must demonstrate to the court that a material and substantial change in circumstances has occurred that necessitates modifying the custody or support decree, and that such modification would be in the best interest of the child. Before the parents go to trial, they must undergo discovery to gather the applicable evidence. The discovery process can include interrogatories, depositions, and requests for written admissions or document production. Discovery is a complex and potentially time-consuming phase that requires a thorough understanding of the law to navigate successfully.  Hopefully, at some point during discovery the parents will determine that it is best to avoid the time and expense of a trial by settling their dispute and informing the court of their mutual agreement. Not only does settling save time, but it can also reduce the emotional and financial strain on both parents. However, if the parents cannot reach a settlement, then their case will go to trial, during which both parents will present their evidence and give their testimonies before the judge.

Tips for Navigating Post-Decree Modifications

Dealing with a post-decree modification can be a tiring process, especially if it comes shortly after the stress and trauma of a divorce. To help ensure a smooth modification process, consider the following tips.

  1. Prioritize your Children: Always focus on the best interests of your children, as you can expect the court to make this its priority as it reviews the post-decree modification. 
  2. Stay Calm: Approach the situation with a clear mind, focusing on facts rather than personal feelings to avoid clouding your judgement. 
  3. Hire an Experienced Attorney: Find an experienced family law attorney to protect your rights and give you sound legal advice tailored to your specific situation.
  4. Document Everything: Keep thorough records of communications or agreements related to the decree being modified. Such documentation will be useful if you need to present evidence.
  5. Stay Informed: Become familiar with the legal criteria for post-decree modifications in your jurisdiction. Carefully review all applicable evidence and prepare your statements thoroughly.
  6. Seek Mediation: Before escalating to litigation, try mediation. A neutral mediator can reduce emotional and financial pain by helping both parties reach an agreement outside of court.

How We Can Help

If you find yourself in a situation where your custody decree or support decree needs modifying, or if you are being served notice of modification by a former spouse, it is important that you promptly seek legal counsel to guide you through the complexities of the upcoming modification process. The attorneys of Vista Family Law have many years of experience with handling modifications and are standing by ready to help you.

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