Many California couples whose marriages end in divorce expect the divorce decree to be a permanent part of their lives, that is, they will see their children when and where the decree provides, and in most cases, one spouse will be required to pay child and spousal support to the other party. Unfortunately, life does not always follow a straight and predictable path, and even marriages that end by the mutual agreement of the parties often collide with unexpected events, such as an illness or one ex-spouse’s desire to move to another state. Many people ask whether a divorce decree can be amended or modified to suit these changes. The answer is “yes,” but it has many qualifications.
The basics of changing a divorce decree
If two former spouses are able to negotiate a change in the divorce decree to accommodate unexpected life changes, most judges in the state will accept the new agreement. But what happens if the spouses don’t agree on changes to the original decree?
In such cases, the spouse who wants to amend the decree must file a motion with the court specifying the desired changes and giving reasons showing that the changes are necessary and not unreasonable. The basic rule is this: the person who wants to amend the decree must prove the existence of a “change in circumstances” that warrant changes to protect the best interests of the children.
What are “changed circumstances”?
Generally, changed circumstances means a significant and permanent alteration in the living or financial circumstances of one or both parties. One spouse may have lost a lucrative job or been disabled by illness or injury. In some cases, an ex-spouse may want to amend the divorce decree for the purpose of leaving California to take a job in another state.
Many divorce decrees can be amended without the assistance of an attorney, but if the facts behind the proposed change are complex, the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney can be invaluable. A knowledgeable lawyer can help assemble evidence to support the change, assist the person bringing the motion in completing and filing the forms requesting the change, and appear in court if a hearing is necessary.