Contrary to what many people believe, divorce agreements are not always a one-and-done type of deal. Sometimes, a change in circumstances can result in a change in your custody order, child support, or Massachusetts Divorce Agreement as well.
A lot of unmarried parents and former spouses find themselves going back to court because the previous arrangement is no longer working for them. There are several reasons why that could happen — change in one person’s financial situation, change in the needs of the children, or even inability to co-parent.
That’s where a Complaint for Modification comes in. Under Massachusetts law, you can file for the Modification and serve it on the ex-spouse/partner. They will have to file an Answer within 20 days of receiving it.
In most Modifications related to the custody proceedings or divorce proceedings, children are usually involved. Also, most divorce separation agreements clearly state that any waiver of a spouse inheritance, asset division, or property division is final and cannot be altered. These areas are regarded as independent contracts on their own.
The only areas which are usually subjected to Modifications in Massachusetts are alimony, custody (including changes to the parenting schedule), child support, and payment of children’s expenses (including school and college).
In other words, any provisions related to children can be modified. In divorce and custody cases, the first priority of the court is always the welfare of the child.
How Financial Circumstances Can Impact Modifications
It’s not hard to imagine that financial situations can change; sometimes in a heartbeat. When that happens, one party or both can request a modification. This can be regarding a reduction, termination, or an increase in the payments required in a divorce or separation agreement.
To understand what type of situations may call for a modification, here are a few examples:
- Cohabitation by the party who is receiving alimony
- The remarriage of a spouse/partner who is receiving alimony
- A party becomes unemployed since the divorce judgment
- A party has increased income since the divorce judgment
- A party becomes sick or disabled, leading to a reduced income
- A party is laid off, unemployed, or has decreased earnings
- A child becomes emancipated and child support is no longer mandatory
- A child’s needs become greater due to sickness or disability
- A significant increase or complete loss of health insurance or other medical expenses
- A party retires, (this depends on the language in the divorce/separation agreement)
How Issues Regarding Children Can Impact Divorce Modifications
It really doesn’t matter what language may have been used in your divorce or separation agreement regarding the children. If the Massachusetts Probate And Family Court deems it necessary, the court can make a new judgment pertaining to the custody, care, and financial support of minor children.
Take the 1976 case Knox v. Remick for instance. The court declared that parents cannot simply bargain away the rights of their children to support from either of the parties.
Changing the Custody
If you wish to alter the child custody agreement, you will need to establish that your circumstances have changed drastically since the initial custody order was entered. If the court agrees with your circumstances and decides that the requested change is in the best interests of the child, you will get a modification.
However, it must be noted that the court will not modify the order just because you and the other party may be experiencing buyer’s remorse about the existing agreement. In order to change a custody order, the court must have a legitimate reason.
Altering the Amount of Child Support
The amount paid by one parent in child support can always be changed. Also, circumstances don’t need to change in order for the court to modify the child support amount. Even though the court can go a different route than mentioned in the Child Support Guidelines, most courts generally adhere to the guidelines.
Changing the Alimony Amount in Divorce Modifications
If you are considering modifying the alimony amount you are currently receiving or paying, you must establish that there is a substantial change in the financial circumstances of you or your ex-spouse.
If one party’s ability to pay and the other party’s need for support are changed in a significant way, a modification can be requested.
The alimony amount can also be changed if:
- Either spouse passes away
- If the ex-spouse, who is receiving alimony, is living with a partner
- If the ex-spouse, who is receiving alimony, remarries
Notably, the court will not decrease the alimony amount if the spouse responsible for paying the alimony intentionally reduces their income. If the court finds the claim to reduce alimony is born out of ill intentions simply to get out of paying the alimony, there will be no modification.
How to reach an agreement for a modification?
You may reach an agreement with another party on your own before or after the filing of Complaint For Modification. Most people prefer to use the services of divorce attorneys or divorce mediators.
An experienced divorce attorney in Massachusetts with deep expertise in family law can help you obtain the modification in the easiest and quickest way possible.
James H. (Jay) Davis III
Thank you for reading. Need to talk? 617-221-3548