Your Options for Change After Your Divorce

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Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP

A divorce decree is an order of court that declares the end of a marriage. Once the decree is issued, life goes on, but your prospects may change. This could lead to the valid question of whether it is possible to change the terms of your divorce.

The Pennsylvania court system is aware that family circumstances change over time; therefore, the courts have allowed for modifications to finalized settlement agreements under certain conditions. To modify a settlement agreement, a party must prove that the change which affects one of the parties is substantial and continuous. When the surrounding facts meet these criteria, you may request to modify the terms of the marriage settlement agreement that you originally consented to, specifically the provisions relating to child support, alimony, or custody. It should be noted that while these previously mentioned provisions are modifiable, the provisions related to the division of assets are often not subject to change.

  1. Child Support

Pennsylvania has set forth guidelines that reflect what it would take to support the amount of children involved in the case if the parties still lived together. The main factor in calculating the amount awarded is the income of both of the parties. An additional large component of the calculation is the custody arrangement. Both parties are responsible for reporting a significant increase or decrease in income. Therefore, if you learn that your ex-spouse changed jobs, got a promotion, or if you lost your own job, you can request a modification to have the court recalculate the support obligation. Another important consideration would be if the custody arrangement has changed. If you have been granted additional custody time, that change could mean that you could be entitled to a larger support payment. The reverse is also true, and could lead to a reduction in the child support obligation.

  1. Alimony

Alimony is a payment one spouse makes to another after the final divorce decree has been granted. Alimony is often dependent on the ability the higher earning spouse to pay, balanced with the need of the dependent spouse for financial support. Therefore, depending on the terms in the settlement agreement, alimony may be modified if the paying party loses employment, changes income, or becomes ill. Another basis for modification, or even termination, could be the dependent spouse remarries or becomes financially independent.

  1. Custody

A court will allow for a modification of custody if it would in the best interest of the child. Examples of what could trigger a modification of custody include the relocation of a parent, the change in the child’s educational or medical needs, or the discovery of child abuse or neglect. A parent’s new disability, mental illness, or substance abuse problem could also be a factor in changing a child custody agreement.

  1. Asset Division

While certain terms related to child support, alimony and custody are all modifiable; parties do not have the option to change the terms related to the division of assets once the divorce is final. Commonly, parties choose to finalize their divorce through a written agreement. This is agreement is often referred to as a property settlement agreement or marriage settlement agreement. This document is a written contract that divides marital property and provides for the future governance of the relationship. Like most contracts, a marriage settlement agreement is binding and the terms are not modifiable.

After you and your ex-spouse enter into a marriage settlement agreement, it is possible that the circumstances change from what they were at the time the agreement was originally executed. It is not uncommon for a party to remarry, change jobs, become ill, lose his or her job, or even relocate. It is important to keep in mind that, normally, a modification only goes into effect when you file your petition with the court, so the sooner you file the better. If your circumstances have changed and you need help getting the modification process started, it may be a good idea to consult an attorney who will advise you how best proceed based on your individual situation. 

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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