While marriage vows often contain a “for better or worse” clause, divorce decrees not only disprove the vow but contain no corresponding provision. If things get worse, you may change the terms of the bargain. However, obtaining a modification of a divorce decree is not necessarily simple. If you need to obtain a modification of any of the orders contained in a divorce decree, Bergen County divorce lawyer Howard B. Leopold can assist you. Howard has diligently guided numerous family law clients through divorce, child custody, and other matters.When May a Divorce Modification be Sought?
A divorce decree, once issued, has the force of law, and it may be enforced by the courts if one or the other spouse does not abide by the terms contained in the final order. However, it is possible for these orders to be legally modified.
Petitions for modifications of alimony, child support, and child custody orders are fairly common. However, the modification of a property settlement, while possible, is less common, since the division of marital assets is a “one-time” settlement, based upon the assets as they existed at the time that the marriage was dissolved. However, even property distribution orders may be set aside under specified circumstances, such as if one of the spouses hid assets or otherwise committed fraud or other serious misconduct, or if there was a material mistake. For example, an asset may have been appraised at a value significantly different from its actual value.
For orders that operate on an ongoing basis—alimony, child support, and child custody—the basic standard is demonstrating that there has been a “significant change of circumstances,” such that compliance with a particular order is difficult or even impossible. However, it is important to remember that a significant change of circumstances is not a subjective matter, and a significant change of circumstances, no matter how drastic, does not automatically suspend a party’s obligations. For example, if an ex-spouse loses his job, his obligation to pay alimony and child support does not cease until he has sought and obtained a modification of the judgment.
For alimony specifically, there are some circumstances in which the law operates, by itself, to terminate the obligation, such as the remarriage of the payee ex-spouse (not the payer) or the death of either party. In addition, in New Jersey, a payer of alimony may seek the termination of alimony (other than reimbursement alimony) if they can prove that the payee spouse is cohabitating with another party who is providing some financial support.
When seeking a modification of alimony, a significant change of circumstances may come about from:
- Unemployment or underemployment;
- A serious illness, accident, disease, or disability that affects earning ability;
- The receipt by the payee spouse of a large inheritance or another windfall; or
- Another significant financial gain or setback.
Since these factors have an impact on the financial means of the parties, they may also form the basis for seeking a modification of child support obligations. New Jersey has uniform child support guidelines that dictate the amount and proportion of a parent’s support obligation, based upon their contribution to the total income available for support. If one or both of the parents suffer a significant and long-term change in income, the amount and proportion of their obligation may be modified.
When it comes to child custody, parents may seek a modification for a variety of reasons, such as relocation to another area, abuse or neglect of a child, a change in work schedules or employment obligations, or an illness that affects the ability of a parent to provide appropriate care.Discuss a Divorce Modification with a Bergen County Lawyer
Trying to obtain a modification of a divorce decree is a fairly complicated legal process that requires a thorough understanding of the legal standards that apply in a given case. It is not a step that you should pursue without the advice and help of an experienced family law attorney. If you need help with a divorce modification, contact Bergen County divorce attorney Howard B. Leopold at 201-345-5907 or use our online form to set up a free consultation. He represents residents of Hackensack, Englewood, Bergenfield, Cliffside Park, Dumont, Edgewater, Elmwood Park, Fair Lawn, Fairview, Fort Lee, Franklin Lakes, Garfield, Glen Rock, Hasbrouck Heights, Hillsdale, Little Ferry, Lodi, Lyndhurst, Mahwah, New Milford, North Arlington, Oakland, Palisades Park, Paramus, Ramsey, Ridgefield, Ridgefield Park, Ridgewood, River Edge, Rutherford, Saddle Brook, Teaneck, Tenafly, Wallington, Westwood, Wyckoff, Jersey City, Paterson, Newark, and other areas of Bergen, Hudson, Essex, and Passaic Counties.