After a family law matter is finalized, new situations can arise as life evolves: changes in employment status, finances, marital status, and children growing up all may require another trip to court if parties cannot agree to changes. In many cases, orders may need to be revisited years after the family law matter resolved.
Once a final Order of Child Support is entered with the court, or spousal maintenance terms are finalized in the Dissolution Decree, they can be modified in certain circumstances.
CHILD SUPPORT MODIFICATION: A court may modify a final order of child support upon a showing of substantial change in circumstances. Whether or not a change is "substantial" depends on its effect on parent's monthly net income. To determine whether there has been a substantial change in circumstances warranting modification, the court considers all sources of income when calculating each parent's monthly gross income. A voluntary reduction in income is not a change of circumstance unless made in good faith.
If there is no substantial change, the court can only modify the order of child support if one year or more has passed since entry of the last order, and the order works a "severe economic hardship" on either party or the child.
CHILD SUPPORT ADJUSTMENT: Either party may request an adjustment of child support if two years have passed from entry of the last order, or last adjustment/modification, whichever is later. There is no requirement to show a substantial change in circumstances. Either party may initiate the action by filing a motion and proposed child support worksheets.
Adjustments are minor changes such as updating the monthly transfer payment based on the new incomes of the parties or changing the parties' proportional share of child-related expenses.
SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE MODIFICATION: Unlike child support obligations, parties can contract for spousal maintenance to be a non-modifiable obligation. Otherwise, the court has authority to modify spousal support upon a showing of substantial change in circumstances. The court will not make a finding of a substantial change of circumstances if the change could have been contemplated by the parties or court when the prior order was entered.
CONTESTING A SETTLEMENT: A party seeking to contest or modify the terms of the final orders must be done by bringing a motion to vacate (set aside) the order under Court Rule 60. This rule allows for a final order to be vacated under unusual circumstances such as fraud, mistakes, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect in obtaining a judgment. These motions are extremely difficult to win, and the motion must be made within one year from the entry of the order.
WHAT I CAN DO.
Whether you are seeking or opposing a change to an existing court order, I am here to assist. The costs of modifying an order are usually less than the cost of an entire dissolution, but there are strict rules to follow and mistakes can be fatal. Modifications are a strategic process requiring you put your best foot forward. Although it is very rare for a final judgment to be set aside, it is one of the most personally gratifying components of my practice.