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Can a divorce settlement be revised years later?

October 3, 2017

Many people find that they wished that the results of their divorce decree were different than what they are. However, it is generally not easy to change a court order, particularly something as potentially contentious as a divorce decree. The passage of time further complicates the process of amending a decree. In simple terms, the longer a person waits, the less likely he or she is to have a divorce decree changed. It is important to note that there are some areas of the decrees that can be changed fairly easily, but most changes to a divorcee decree are uncommon and difficult.

The area of divorce decrees that are most commonly amended are parts dealing with child custody, child support and alimony payments. When there has been a change in circumstances for one or both of the parties, courts will generally allow for the modification of a child support order. The most common change in circumstances is a change in financial standing. Both parties will be given a chance to provide their financial information and the court will use a state approved formula to determine the proper amount of child support. Some examples of situations that most courts will consider making a modification include: if one or both of the parties has moved, an older child wants to change residences or changes in a parent’s lifestyle (such as one parent now working the night shift).

Modification to alimony payments are less common than child support payments. However, alimony may be modifiable depending on the language of the divorce order. Modification of alimony typically requires more significant changes in the financial circumstances of the parties than does child support modification. As a general rule, the financial changes must be significant, such as one party going to work or becoming disabled and unable to work. Beyond changing payment amounts or custody, modifying a divorce decree is very difficult unless both parties agree to the change.

In most other cases, a person wanting to change a divorce decree will need to be able to prove a legally valid reason to question the fairness of the divorce decree. The two most common factors are fraud and duress. To prove fraud, a person will need proof that the other party purposefully hid information that was important to the court’s divorce decision. For example, if one party hid financial assets from the other party during the divorce process, the court would likely hear the request for modification. For duress, a person will have to prove that he or she was improperly pressured to make a decision. While virtually all divorce decisions involve some level of stress, duress refers specifically to improper pressure. For example, one party may have made a physical threat against the other party in the divorce to sign the divorce settlement. Threatening to cause a person to lose his or her job may also qualify as duress. The legal release of embarrassing information, such as telling family members about affairs or other events, generally does not constitute duress.

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