Modifying or Challenging a Divorce Decree

A divorce decree makes findings regarding all issues set forth by the divorcing parties. This document is a binding order of the court. Once it is executed by the court, its terms can be enforced by the court via a contempt proceeding. Therefore, it becomes difficult, and in some cases, impossible, to change the terms once the appeal period has expired. Every divorce decree will be different. However, the purpose of the decree is to define the rights and duties of each party in the divorce. Divorce decrees are essential documents because the divorce process is not considered complete until one is issued. Thus, the party’s marital status (married or divorced) will not be legally finalized until the divorce decree is issued. Divorce proceedings that are uncompleted may continue to have effects on different areas of a person’s life, such as taxes, debt, employment benefits, property possession, and other legal rights.

Lawyer discussing legal case with client

What Does a Divorce Decree Contain?

Divorce decrees typically address issues such as:

  • Spousal support and alimony
  • Division of property 
  • Child custody, support, and visitation rights
  • The financial obligations of each party 

In addition to legal issues such as these, the divorce decree contains vital information, such as the names of each party, the date the decree is effective, and the case number. This information often helps in locating the records of the divorce decree in the future.

What About Changing or Modifying a Decree

The court understands that a party’s circumstances can change over time. As such, you may be able to successfully request a modification of the decree if you have experienced a significant life change. For example, you may be ordered to pay child support, then suffer a substantial loss of income through no fault of your own. In this circumstance, you can request that the court modify your previous decree to reduce your child support payment. The same principles and guidelines apply to a decreed alimony setup. It may also be possible to modify child custody under specific circumstances. The court’s overriding concern in custody matters is the best interest of the children. However, one party may become an unfit parent, and these situations necessitate a change. Here, the court will consider the evidence presented and change the custody agreement should that be in the best interest of the children. Additionally, the court may have made an error in its findings pertaining to the final decree. This could have consequences for both parties involved. If you believe your divorce decree contains an error, you have the right to file motions to ask for a reconsideration of the terms. However, motions such as these must be filed within the time frame statute. If you decide not to file these motions or if they are  not successful, you might be able to appeal. Filing an appeal gives you the chance to set forth the mistakes to a higher court. If you think your circumstances have changed so that a modification of your divorce decree is warranted, or if you want to challenge the court findings through an appeal process, you need to hire an attorney with experience in divorce and family law.