Modifying One or More of the Stipulations in Your Divorce Decree
After your divorce, you might find it necessary or desirable to modify one or more of the stipulations in your divorce decree, property settlement, or custody and support arrangements.
You can always approach the court about any provisions of the decree pertaining to custody and support of your children by filing a motion to modify any one or more of those provisions. Typically, that cannot happen more than once a year; with respect to child support, three years is the usual time needed between modifications. However, if there is urgency to the issue – perhaps an illness or injury to the child, abuse of the child, school problems – the court will generally agree to conduct a hearing and decide the issue. You will have to file a motion to modify the prior order, setting out the provisions you want to change.
The motion will have to be set for hearing, and you will have to serve your ex with both the motion and the notice of the scheduled hearing date. On the other hand, if there is some provisions you and your ex agree about, you can file the motion to modify and submit the signed agreed order to be signed by the judge, at which point it becomes official. Any changes you and your ex agree about, but do not write up and present to the judge in the proper manner, will not be official.
Let’s say you were just laid off your job and your ex agrees to waive child support until you get another job. That will not protect you. Unless you have the judge sign an order changing your child support, you will remain under court order to pay whatever the original amount was. Even if your ex does not want to enforce that, the Texas Attorney General may proceed on his own and you will have a big problem on your hands.
Let’s say you and your ex want to change some of the visitation provisions. You can always do that by agreement and generally speaking there may be no need to go to the trouble and expense of getting a new order signed by the judge, as long as both of you continue to abide by your informal agreement. If that starts to fall apart, please be aware that the court will not be able to enforce the changes you and your ex agreed to unless they are memorialized in a new court order.
All aspects of the property division become final thirty days after the judge has signed your divorce decree. If you realize there is a mistake or problem with the property settlement or that something was omitted, you must file a motion for new trial or to correct or modify the decree within that thirty-day period after the decree has been signed by the judge. In extraordinary circumstances of fraud the court may be able to reopen your case later, but that remedy is rarely successful, so you should be sure you are as satisfied as possible with your divorce decree before the 30-day time limit has expired.
Some states have provisions for changing the terms of the property division or the terms for spousal support if circumstances change after the divorce. Texas is not one of those states. Essentially, there is nothing to be done if, for instance, your ex’s income goes way up after the divorce, or you become ill or injured. Only matters involving the children can be modified after divorce. However, the court can and will enforce the provisions of its property division if your ex is not abiding by the terms of the decree.
If there is some matter on which both of you agree, you can enter into a written agreement incident to divorce, within certain time limitations, which can be enforced as a contract.
Michael R. Puhl