So you’ve finalized your divorce: Congratulations! In addition to the host of life changes that you will have to undertake (name changes, tax filing statuses, living arrangements, etc.), there may also be changes you’ll have to make to your original divorce agreement. These are known as post-divorce modifications. While your original divorce agreement was initially developed with the understanding that all parties were in acceptance with the terms, life circumstances change, creating the need for equitable adjustments.
With due process of law, the Superior Courts of New Jersey will recognize the majority of post-divorce modifications. Modifications are different from appeals, which stipulate that a significant error occurred during the original trial, thus requiring the case to be appealed to a higher “appellate” court. Appeals cases generally give deference to the original judge on the divorce case. While not impossible, this makes it unlikely that an appeals court will overturn a judge’s decision in a divorce case unless the judge actually erred and the error harmed the result of the case. Unlike appeals, post-divorce modifications tend to be relatively streamlined and are less expensive. They also often make more sense, as they deal with circumstantial life changes as opposed to making an argument for error.
Post-divorce modifications are often the best way to change certain aspects of the divorce decree including property division, alimony (spousal support), child support, child custody arrangements, and visitation agreements. One of the most common instigators of post-divorce modifications include changes in income. This could be the loss of a job, changing jobs, or getting a promotion. The amount a spouse earns upon the initial divorce agreement could change greatly, thus affecting his/her ability to pay or require financial support such as alimony or child custody. Parties seeking a divorce decree modification must file a “motion to modify” the divorce decree or divorce judgment. Additionally, they must demonstrate that their changed circumstances warrant a modification and provide the necessary evidence to support this claim. After such action has been taken, a New Jersey court will file the petition and serve it to the ex-spouse. This usually occurs in the same court or district where the original divorce judgment was issued. A hearing date will be consequently scheduled, where the serving spouse will present the argument for modification. If both spouses agree to the changes, the court may accept the modification without a hearing.
Changes in child custody often prove more challenging. Courts may be quick to assume that original custody agreements were correct and may be reluctant to issue modifications. If, however, a strong enough case can be made that the change is in the best interests of the child or children in question, courts will more likely than not be open to modifications. While the right to be financially and emotionally supported by parents belongs to children, parents’ ability to provide these services in ways that best serve their children may vary due to their lives’ circumstances. Factors that could potentially impact a parent’s ability to care include income changes in one or both parties, changes in children’s educational needs (from primary school all the way through college, in many cases), remarriage, the existence of neglect or child abuse, and illness (mental or physical).
Post-divorce modifications don’t only include changes in family relations and circumstances. To discuss your situation and potential for modifying your divorce decree, contact Romanowski Law Offices or give us a call at 1-732-603-8585 today!