Once you are officially divorced in Missouri, a decree is entered which dictates the terms of your divorce: child support, spousal support, and custody arrangements. These arrangements are binding to both parties to the divorce, but that does not mean that they cannot be changed in certain situations. When those certain circumstances exist, a party may move for a post-decree modification in order to possibly make changes.
At the Higher Level Legal Law Firm, we work hard to change the divorce decree in order to fit your changing needs. There are specific requirements that must be met before a post-decree modification will be granted. Failure to meet these requirements will likely result in a denial of your request. Our team are experienced attorneys with years of experience in post-decree modification who will put that experience to work for you.
What is a Post-Decree Modification?
The divorce process you went through was likely lengthy and difficult, but ultimately ended in an agreement or decision based on your life. However, life can change after you sign your divorce agreement. These changes can and should be brought to the court's attention so that all parties to the divorce are treated fairly.
When ongoing, substantial life changes occur and justify a change in the divorce orders, the appropriate paperwork must be filed in order to make any modifications.
How Do I Modify My Child Support Amount?
The most common request from parties to a divorce is for a change in the child support amount. Before a court may permit a post-decree modification to your child support requirements, the party seeking modification of the decree must show changed "circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms unreasonable."
When a judge considers the change in circumstances, he or she will determine:
- The financial resources and needs of both parents,
- The financial resources and needs of the child,
- The emotional and physical condition of the child,
- The child's educational needs,
- The legal custody arrangements concerning the child,
- The work-related expenses of each parent, and
- The standard of living the child has enjoyed and how the change may have an impact.
The court will then look to Form 14 to make a determination as to the change in circumstances of the party moving for the modification. If there is a 20% or more change in Form 14 financial calculation, the court will automatically consider a modification of the previous child support decree. A change of 20% or more satisfies the "substantial" component of Mo. Ann. Stat. § 452.370.
The court will then determine whether the change of circumstances is continuing. If the change is only temporary and for a short period of time, a Missouri court is not likely to change the child support requirements.
Proving the Need for a Modification to the Child Support Amount
You must put forth certain evidence before your request for a change in the child support amount may be accepted. Some examples of changes in your life that may justify a modification include the following.
- Loss of Employment If you lost your job, especially if it was not your fault (i.e., layoffs), this will significantly affect your income. A court may grant a modification of your child support as a result. You will need to present proof of your lack of employment, as well as what efforts you are currently taking to find a new job.
- Loss of Income If you have a job that cuts wages, including yours, you may request a modification of your child support. The court will consider the amount of the change and the effect it currently has on your life. You must present evidence of your new income, as well as your costs.
- Increase in Income of the Other Party If the other party to the child support has had an increase in income, especially if that change is substantial, you can file for a post-decree modification to increase that party's child support obligations. You must present evidence of that new income as well as why it would be fair to increase that person's obligations over your own.
- Change in Medical Costs A change in the child's medical costs may justify a change in the support requirements. For example, if you lose your insurance and were previously required to cover all medical expenses as a result, this change will significantly affect the amount you are paying versus the other party.
If you can prove to the court that a post-decree modification is warranted, the judge has the discretion to grant or deny the request in accordance with Missouri law.
How Do I Change the Custody Arrangements?
Child custody arrangements are usually important to both parents but is always important in determining what is in the best interest of the child. A Missouri court takes great care in determining the initial custody arrangements, but as we all know, circumstances change. As a result of those changes, a change in custody might be justified.
Changes that could affect child custody arrangements include, but are not limited to:
- Relocation of one parent to another address,
- One parent remarries,
- Changes in the needs of the child as he or she ages,
- Health changes of the child or custodial parent,
- Allegations of neglect or abuse, and
- Changes in the educational requirements of the child.
Changes by Agreement
Parents are allowed to agree to minor or simple changes informally. This might include simple changes in:
- Scheduling of days when the child is with a specific parent (especially when temporary)
- Pickup times,
- Travel arrangements, and
- Special events.
These informal changes do not require a court order. When the changes are more major, such as where a child will reside most of the time, the court must be involved. The parties must file a Motion to Modify Child Custody (CAFC101) form with the court. When the parties agree to the changes, they will also file an agreement, or stipulation, with the court outlining the changes and stating that the parties agree.
The use of an experienced attorney is important as this new agreement, once accepted by the court, will be binding upon both parties.
Changes When the Parents Cannot Agree
When the parents cannot agree as to the requested changes it is considered "contested." If this is the case, the court will require the parent requesting the post-decree modification to present evidence in court. The type of evidence and the burden of proof required to make any changes varies, based on the requested modifications.
Both parties are given the opportunity to present evidence to the court on the issue of modification. This means that the non-moving party can present evidence which shows that the suggested changes are not in the child's best interest or violate the rights of the non-moving party. Understanding the burden of proof and the kinds of evidence you must present can be complex. An experienced Missouri attorney can help you understand these complexities and present an effective case.
Can I Change My Spousal Support Obligations?
If you wish to change the amount of your spousal support obligations, also commonly referred to as "alimony," you will need to prove that you have experienced a substantial financial change which causes you to be unable to continue making those payments. In most cases, the party moving for modification has the burden of proof.
If you are seeking a change in your spousal support amount, you must show that the changes are involuntary, not as a result of your own actions. For example, you cannot retire earlier than expected in order to avoid your payments.
Changes which may support a post-decree modification include the following.
- Loss of Employment If you have lost your job, you may be entitled to a reduction in your spousal support amount.
- Substantial Change in Your Former Spouse's Income If your former spouse suddenly begins to make a substantially higher income, you may be entitled to a reduction or termination of your spousal support obligations.
- Cost of Living Changes If your cost of living has changed, you may be able to seek a reduction of your obligations in certain cases.
- Change in Your Health If you have experienced a significant change in your health that prevents you from making the previously ordered spousal support amount, it can be modified. You will need to prove to the court that the change is substantial, and provide evidence of the costs of your new health condition.
- Your Former Spouse Remarries If your former spouse remarries, your spousal support obligations will end.
- Death of Your Former Spouse If your former spouse passes away, you will no longer be required to provide spousal support.
Changing your spousal support obligations requires specific proof, which an experienced family law attorney can help you present.
Consult with an Experienced Attorney
A post-decree modification is best requested with the advice of experienced Cass County attorneys from our team. Our years of experience in divorce, custody disputes, post-decree modifications, and other family law matters in Missouri will provide you with the necessary information to meet your legal needs.
Contact the Higher Level Legal Law Firm today at (816) 331-9968 for a consultation.