Can I Change the Divorce Decree Now?

Divorce lawyers like me get regular questions from people who divorced several years ago and now resent or regret one or more of the terms. How easy is it to modify a divorce decree after the divorce is effective? Here are some basic principles that apply in my home state of Alabama. To my knowledge, they apply in other states as well:

  • All matters involving child custody, visitation, child support, and alimony remain in the court’s jurisdiction. The parties can stipulate otherwise, but the court can and often will disregard their stipulation. The one exception to this is alimony, for which a waiver at the time of divorce will be binding.
  • Within 42 days of the decree, all issues can be appealed, including property division.
  • After the appeal period has passed, you can’t modify property division absent fraud.
  • The form this often takes is the client who gave up any rights to her husband’s retirement plan five years ago, and now she regrets it. Is it possible, she asks, to get it changed. The answer is no. Is it possible for her to get an increase in alimony? Yes, but only if there has been no waiver and there has been a material change in circumstances since the divorce.

    Or a client may point out that he gave up the house in divorce and now wants to get a break on child support because he has to pay a lot to transport his children to and from Mom’s house. The answer is that he may indeed get a break on child support — Rule 32 allows deviation from guideline child support for extraordinary transportation costs — but not because he gave up the house in the divorce.

    3 comments

    1. Nicole says:

      My ex and I have spent 2 years in the courts. When we got our final divorce decree it had several mistakes. Both of us asked our attorneys to file a Motion to Correct the Order. Neither filed it within the proper time frame. My ex and I both agree that we want the document retyped to clarify many sections that were written sloppy and correct the parts that were typed wrong. In addition, I now want to sign over the martial residence to him in order to stop paying 1/2 the mortgage and he has agreed to refinance completely in his name. But, the divorce decrees states that I get 1/2 the equity when the house sells — I want to change it to me just giving up my half of the equity as long as he refinances in his name.

      Can we just retype the divorce decree and file a Motion with the court to have the entire document modified if we both agree that we want to do this? Or, do we have to have an attorney do this for us, get the Judge to approve, etc… Both attorneys have failed with doing what we already paid them to do and are difficult to deal with. Any suggestions?

    2. Lee Borden says:

      Sounds like you need to file a joint petition to modify. It’s similar to an uncontested divorce, except the filing fee is usually higher. There’s no need to use either of the lawyers you used before. Just look around for a good lawyer for uncontested divorces, and he or she should be able to handle this for you easily.

    3. We get this type question from clients who are not happy with how the terms of their divorce play out after the fact. Too many individuals make emotional decisions when they need to be making financial decisions. Changing a decree after the fact is something that you do not want to get into. Take the time up front to review your financial situation and work through different financial scenarios that mimic your proposed settlement and determine if this is something you can live with. Don’t rush through this process just to get it over with or do something because you are being intimidated by what you do not know.

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