Reasons to Modify Your Divorce Decree
Overview of Post-Divorce Modifications in Texas
Divorce is an unpleasant experience for even the most amicable couples. However painful, legally dissolving a marriage means litigating with your spouse on your finances, family, and other personal aspects of your life. In Texas, the court sets the terms and deems them final at the end of the divorce process. However, there are certain situations that can bring the final divorce decree (or suit affecting parent-child relationship) into question post-divorce. Texas law allows modifications to divorce decrees if both parties mutually decide to alter the terms OR if there has been material and substantial changes in circumstances for a party or of a child.
Justifying a Modification: Mutual Agreement or Changed Circumstances
- Mutual Agreement: Divorce is an emotional time for both sides, and strong feelings often influence the final resolution. Given enough distance and time, former spouses sometimes work together and make a mutual decision to alter some terms of the divorce decree. In Texas, a petition by both parties for an agreed upon modification is a legally acceptable way to change the previously “final” terms in the original divorce.
- Material and substantial changes in circumstances: Texas law allows modifications if circumstances change significantly for one partner, the child or of the marriage. For example, the court may modify the term of spousal maintenance if the paying spouse loses employment. In addition, parties can request modification due to a move or similar life-altering event such as remarriage. Whatever the situation, courts are more likely to modify continual financial obligations such as alimony rather than property divisions or debt distributions.
- The court may also modify a child support order if the following applies: It has been three years since the order was rendered or last modified and the monthly amount of the child support award under the orders differs by either 20 percent or $100 from the amount that would be awarded in accordance with the child support guidelines.
What Can be Modified?
Before we go into what can be modified, let’s first discuss what can’t be modified. Courts do not change divisions of marital properties. The Texas Family Code only allows for modification of spousal maintenance, child support, and custody. If you believe that there needs to be an alteration to the final decree of divorce concerning the division of properties, please contact our family law firm, Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, P.C., as there are other vehicles used to accomplish this.
Modification of spousal maintenance
In Texas, terms for spousal maintenance may only be modified after a proper showing of a material and substantial changes in circumstances. In some cases, the final decree prescribes a “sliding” scale for alimony, which slowly decreases the amount of support given to the receiving spouse. At times, financial circumstances improve for the receiving spouse, such as a significant increase in income or material wealth. They may remarry or live with a permanent partner. If the receiving spouse no longer needs the alimony, then the court will terminate spousal maintenance.
On the other hand, the court may decrease the amount of spousal maintenance paid by a spouse for job loss or for an involuntary reduction in pay.
Child Support Modification
Texas law recognizes that circumstances change. The court may modify the terms of a child support order if the modification is in the best interest of there has been a material and substantial changes in circumstances of a party or of the child.
For example, if a child becomes chronically ill and requires additional medical expenses, the court may consider this as one of the many factors in an increase in child support amount. Further, if the paying party has an additional child to support after the final order was signed, then the paying party’s child support obligation may be reduced.
The court may also modify the child support order if it has been three years since the order was rendered or last modified and the monthly amount of the child support award under the orders differs by either 20 percent or $100 from the amount that would be awarded in accordance with the child support guidelines.
Custody and Visitation Modification
The court may also grant a modification to the terms of conservatorship and possession and access to a child. The burden of proof is high, as the party seeking modification must show any of the following:
- There has been material and substantial changes in circumstances of a conservator or the child
- The child who is 12 years or older has expressed to the court the person who should be the primary conservator
- If the primary parent has voluntarily relinquished the primary care and possession (so long as the voluntary relinquishment is not the result of military order).
The court may modify the terms under either of these 3 (or 2 of these, or all) so long as the requested modification is in the best interest of the child.
Do you want to Modify your Divorce Decree? Consult an Attorney
If you are going through a divorce or child custody suit, it is imperative that you consult a family practice attorney immediately. Rather than modify the decree at a future date, the best way to legally protect yourself is to involve an expert from the start. However, even if your divorce is final, modification is possible.
Texas state family law is complex, but the experienced team at Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, P.C. are here to help. Contact us for more information today!