Family law orders regarding parenting time (child custody), child support and spousal support (alimony) aren’t necessarily set in stone. Circumstances change, and what worked at the outset might not work months or years later. So how do you go about changing it?
In general, there are two paths to obtaining a modification. In parenting time cases, a third way – a temporary ex parte order – may be appropriate in emergency situations where swift action is needed.
A consent agreement
If you and your ex both agree to the change, it will be far easier to pursue the modification. Even if you agree to the broad strokes but disagree on some of the details, an out-of-court mediation process can help you iron out a new agreement. The court will still have to approve the change and sign a new order. In parenting time cases, the court will have to determine that the modification is in the child’s best interests.
A motion for modification
If your ex doesn’t agree to the change, the court will need to decide. The party seeking the change must file a motion to modify the existing order. Depending on the type of order, different standards apply:
- To change a parenting time order, you must establish “proper cause” or a “change in circumstances” that would warrant the modification. Additionally, the new arrangement must clearly be in the best interests of the child.
- To modify a child support order, you must demonstrate a significant change in financial circumstances – for example, job loss, a new medical condition or the like. Alternatively, you can ask the FOC (friend of the court) office to review the existing order and determine whether a modification is appropriate.
- To change a spousal support order, you must typically establish a change in circumstances or new facts warranting a modification. Examples include remarriage, change in a living situation, health issues or, more rarely, fraud or deception.
In contested cases, the court process can be lengthy. Expect additional hearings and evidence-gathering. And, as always, talk to an attorney about your unique situation.