Your divorce decree may need an update

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The ancient Greeks had it right: “The only thing that is constant is change.” Everything changes, and that includes your arrangement with your ex-spouse.

“The divorce decree that worked for you and your children years ago may not fit your life now,” says Lisa Owen, an attorney at Cauthorn Nohr & Owen with more than 17 years of experience in Family Law. “An agreement that worked when your daughter was a toddler may need some updating now that she’s a preteen.”

It’s not uncommon to need a modification to your divorce decree. For example, at any time, you can move to modify custody and visitation if you can prove a material change has occurred since the date of the divorce, or last modification order, and it is in the best interest of the child to modify the same. This could include violence in the home, drug use, or other change in circumstances since the original court order. If a substantial and ongoing change of circumstance can be proved, the court will factor in the best interest of the child.

Keep these points in mind if you plan to seek modification to your divorce degree:

Not everything can be modified, but important terms can be changed. Generally, property division and liabilities cannot be modified. Child support, child custody and visitation are all terms that qualify for modification in a divorce decree in Georgia. The court often recognizes that as children get older, their needs change. Situations that may be considered are that the parent that was allocated more time with the child as a toddler may not be the right fit for an older child; child care costs rise or fall; and incomes and life circumstances change.

Frequency rules apply. Modification can only be done once every two years unless you can prove a material change in circumstances. The only exception to that rule is a one-time modification within the first two years after the divorce agreement is final.

You’ll need to prove a change of circumstances. A modification will only be considered if you can prove a substantial and ongoing change of circumstance. Modification requests can’t be based on a one-time change such as an upcoming expensive summer camp.  

Examples of substantial change include situations where a parent:

  • Moves out of state or a great distance from the child.
  • Changes residences and school districts, making enforcement of the order impossible or impracticable. 
  • Struggles with a drug or alcohol problem.
  • Faces legal issues or is arrested. 
  • Experiences a large increase or decrease in salary
  • Pays dramatically increased daycare costs. 
  • Child files an election to live with another parent

“You know your child better than anyone else,” says Ms. Owen. “If your current custody, visitation or support does not meet your child’s needs, it’s time to request a modification.”

The CNO Team