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It is inevitable that many family law agreements and/or court orders will require modification at some point.
Final May Mean Final
When parties divorce, they reach settlement agreements and/or the court issues orders based on certain facts and situations as they exist at that moment in time. The rationale for doing so is based on the important legal principle that parties must be able to rely on the finality of executed settlement agreements and court orders. Moreover, it would be impossible to resolve a case based on what may or may not happen in the future. Parties could continue a case indefinitely based on crazy “what ifs.”
But . . . Final May Not Always Mean Final
Despite the importance of finality in legal matters, mechanisms do exist that allows parties – in some circumstances – to seek modifications of existing agreements and orders. Certain events may transpire that make it impossible for one or both parties to comply with existing agreements and orders. When these events take place, parties may be able to negotiate new agreements, or they may be able to petition the court to modify its previously-issued orders.
It is important to note that certain events are more likely than others to trigger the modification process. Essentially, something substantial must change in order to convince another party and/or the court that modification is warranted.
It is also important to realize that some agreements/orders are not modifiable – such as the property division in a divorce case – no matter what changes one or both parties experience.
What Family Law Orders Can Be Modified?
In family law matters, parties tend to seek modifications of three primary types of agreements/orders:
Child Custody Modification
In Texas, all court orders regarding child custody, including decisions regarding modification, must be based on the best interest of the child(ren). Persuading the other parent and/or the court to modify currently-existing custody plans is not always an easy task.
Certain scenarios may result in custody modification, including the following:
- The child has “outgrown” the existing parenting plan (i.e., a parenting plan designed for a toddler likely will not work for a teenager)
- A parent’s death
- A parent’s job loss
- The development of a substance abuse problem by a parent
- Domestic violence
- In certain situations, the child’s own wishes to change custody arrangements
- Courts do give weight to the preferences of older children
- A parent’s wish to relocate (without the child) and therefore seeks to modify the parenting schedule in order to maintain the child-parent relationship
- A parent’s wish to relocate with the child
- The court (and both parents) must consider the overall well-being of the child with and without relocation, and how the proposed relocation will affect the child’s ability to have a meaningful relationship with both parents.
Child Support Modification
Unlike the property division in a divorce, child support orders are considered fluid, meaning they may change based on the numbers. Generally, there are two reasons a parent seeks to modify an existing child support order: 1) he or she experienced a substantial change in income (increase or decrease); OR 2) he or she suspects or finds out that the other parent has experienced an increase in income.
In order to successfully petition a Texas court to modify an existing child support agreement/ order, a parent must sufficiently demonstrate that a significant change of circumstances has actually taken place.
Some common examples of scenarios that prompt parents to seek child support modification are as follows:
- A parent’s job loss (or change in job that results in less income)
- A significant change in a parent’s finances (positive or negative)
- A significant change in a parent’s health insurance coverage (including deductible amounts and copayments)
- A change in the health of a parent
- A change in the health of the child
- A change in the needs and/or expenses of the child
- A parent’s marriage (or remarriage)
In order to obtain or oppose a modification to child support, it is so important to gather relevant financial statements and documents of both parties. Upon review, you may find that the financial picture painted by one parent is not adequately supported by the records.
Spousal Maintenance Modification
In Texas, it is not uncommon for one spouse to pay temporary spousal support to the other spouse during the pendency of the divorce (in order to pay bills and maintain the status quo). Once the divorce is finalized, spousal support becomes an entirely new issue.
Texas courts are not particularly fond of issuing spousal maintenance orders. Therefore, the party seeking “alimony” must present to the court a very compelling and persuasive case as to why he or she needs the support. The party must also convince the court that the other spouse has the ability to pay alimony.
Once the parties agree on the terms of spousal support or the court issues a spousal support order, the matter becomes final.
HOWEVER, like child support orders, a party may petition the court to modify an existing spousal maintenance order based on a substantial change in circumstances.
Contact A Divorce and Modifications Attorney Today
Contact us today at (940) 465-9872 to schedule a complimentary consultation so that we can discuss your desire to initiate or oppose modification proceedings. It is not always an easy task to successfully obtain or oppose a proposed modification to existing orders in family law matters, but there are many legal strategies that a divorce lawyer may be able to employ in your case. As a divorce attorney with years of experience and a successful track record in modification actions, I can help you obtain the best possible results based on your goals and the details of your specific case.
If it is time to make a change to an existing court order, let me help you navigate the process.