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.