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When is it appropriate to modify the divorce decree?

Change is one of the few consistencies in life for families. The needs of the children change over time as they seemingly go overnight from a child barely walking to a college athlete. The parents also go through life changes where the person who filed for divorce may be very different than the person today.

Divorce decrees that have custody, maintenance or support agreements reflect many of the most common changes in circumstances that families face, but it still may be necessary to modify them. It could come a few years after the split or at a date further down the line.

Common examples for modifications

Changes should always keep the best interests of the children in mind, while also addressing whatever issues that need a formal change to the decree:

  • Parent relocation: An ex may wish to move for career advancement. This obviously complicates matters if pick-ups and drop-offs involve a plane ticket, and some may wish to fight this.
  • Substance abuse: Parents may not be emotionally or physically able to provide a safe and loving environment. An adjustment may be needed at least until they are back on track, or it could be permanent.
  • Domestic violence: Any parent that abuses or threatens to abuse a child should be immediately reported to law enforcement. Modifying the parenting plan or custody agreement is one of the best ways to protects the child.
  • Career change: There may be a major shift up or down in the income of a spouse. Support obligations and their enforcement may need to reflect that change.
  • Remarriage or co-habitation: Ideally the co-parents remarry new spouses or enter into a stable and committed relationships that positively impact the children. This is great, but a change in the parent’s living arrangement often leads to a modification in support or custody.

Attorneys can help draft these changes

Ideally these changes reflect an improvement in circumstances, but sometimes it is the opposite. It is important to work with an experienced family law attorney to formally modify the agreement, particularly when it addresses the health, safety and well-being of the children.

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