How To Modify A Divorce Order In Georgia
After you go through a divorce case in Georgia, you may be relieved to have the case settled and to move on with your life. Yet life changes can occur that can necessitate revising or modifying an existing divorce decree. For example, you might get a new job that comes with a significant raise, or you might accept a job opportunity that is a pay cut but offers other not economic benefits to your career. Perhaps you lose your job due to the economy or restructuring. Alternatively, perhaps there is an opportunity for you in another state or country. Conversely, it could be that your situation has stayed the same but your former spouse’s situation has changed – a new job, a new state, etc.
If a significant change in your life circumstances occurs after a divorce decree has been entered, can you modify the divorce order? And if you can seek a divorce modification, how can you do it?
Parties are able to make small changes in their agreements without Court involvement so long as the changes are not material, significant or permanent. For example, if you both agree your former spouse will call the children at 6:15 today instead of 6:00 pm because your former spouse has a board meeting until 6:00 pm. When seeking to modify something permanently, like financial support such as alimony or child support, or you are seeking to modify child custody or parenting time, a modification action must be filed to formalize a change in the prior agreement. A change can occur if both parties agree on the change. A change can also occur if one party petitions the Court for a change. To succeed in obtaining a change in the underlying agreement, you will have the burden to prove there has been a substantial change in circumstances.
If you are seeking to modify a support order—either to seek additional support or to show that your ability to pay has been reduced—you will need to show that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. What does “substantial change” mean? For each case, that definition is different because the facts of the case are different, so each situation is looked at on a case by case basis. When it comes to child support and each parent’s child support obligation, the parent seeking to modify child support is required to show that “there is a substantial change in either parent’s income and financial status or the needs of the child.” If alimony is being received or paid, alimony can be modified. The term of alimony cannot be modified, however. Meaning if someone is obligated to pay alimony for 48 months the Court is not able to reduce that to 36 months or 24 months or zero months. The court can reduce the amount, but not the time for which alimony must be paid. It is critical to do a cost benefit analysis of how much it will cost to obtain the change you want as it does not make financial sense to spend thousands of dollars to get hundreds of dollars or to ruin the goodwill you have with the other parent.
To modify child custody or parenting time, the parent seeking the modification will need to show that a “material change of condition or circumstance affecting the best interests of the child” has occurred. That substantial change in circumstances may refer to the child’s specific circumstances, or to one of the parent’s circumstances. As with the financial circumstances, the custody and parenting time circumstances are reviewed on a case by case basis. Some examples of that have been cited as causes for modification (but not necessarily successful in court) are – a cross-country move, a cross-county move, a child’s poor performance in school, a parent’s remarriage, a child’s inability to get along with step-siblings, a parent’s change in employment hours or responsibilities, a parent’s alcohol or drug use or abuse, etc. What is paramount in each of these circumstances is how the situation affects the child or children in the case and how a modification will better serve the child or children.
Each case is unique in Georgia and modification cases are the epitome of that. Our lawyers have handled countless modifications. We are here to work through the scenarios with you and discuss your underlying case and the changes that have happened since the finalization of the divorce to determine if a modification is necessary and when a modification should be had.
Contact Our Atlanta Modification Lawyers
Do you have questions or concerns about modifying your divorce decree? One of the experienced Atlanta divorce attorneys at our firm can speak with you today about your case. Contact Kaye, Lembeck, Hitt & French for more information.