Life continues even after your marriage ends. Jobs and financial situations change, children grow up and new relationships form. Any one of these and more can have a significant impact on your divorce settlement and require alterations to your divorce decree.
Many of my clients over the years come to me for such matters even if I didn’t handle their original divorce. The circumstances surrounding post-divorce issues are as diverse as the clients and the reasons they separated in the first place. Sometimes, the acrimony has subsided and I find myself speaking to rational parties seeking a positive outcome for everyone involved. Often, however, the water never flowed beneath the bridge and continues to wash out the road they travel. Wherever life’s journey takes a couple or a family, the court order follows them for as long as it’s in force so it’s important not to “wing it.”
First off, in a healthy post-divorce relationship, both parties can agree to alter the circumstances of the arrangement without having to file any paperwork or alter the decree. This carries an obvious risk of a breakdown in communication further down the road that will only further cloud the original intent of the post-divorce decree. Therefore, I recommend memorializing even the most mundane mutual agreements that alter the divorce settlement and/or judgment into a written stipulation with acknowledgments required to record a deed (the notary section). Documented clarity trumps handshake agreements every time, and prevents your ex from one day suing you for enforcement claiming he or she never agreed to change anything.
In terms of bitter relationships where both parties continue a toxic dialogue, communication and clarity are even more critical. Even if the ex-spouses can’t be in the same room together, their lawyers can and should. Remember that the court doesn’t care about your feelings or what has changed in your life. The court cares first and foremost about any children involved and what was already decided. In cases where one or both parties are seeking to alter the financial conditions of the decree or, more drastically, looking to move out of state, you must obtain a modification of decree.
Amazingly, I see so many cases where one party simply decides to stop paying on his or her obligations, packs up and moves or withholds visitation rights to force the other party to respond. This is always a bad plan. I tell my clients to stay to the letter of the original decree until a modification is achieved and to NEVER use a child as a pawn. Not only do the courts frown upon this kind of behavior, it’s just wrong.