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Divorce Decree Modification

When a divorce decree is issued by a judge, the ruling is final. Unless one of the parties involved files an appeal within 30 days of the final judgment and can prove there was an error, fraud, missing information, or other exceptional circumstance that affected the outcome of the case, the decisions made in the divorce decree are final, meaning those mentioned in it will need to follow the agreement made.

Outside of an appeal, certain orders may be changed when an appropriate modification is requested. Family law, in particular, offers a variety of potential modifications, due primarily to the effects of certain divorce, custody, child support, and alimony decisions can have. Usually, a modification without significant changes to the financial or material situation of one party or the other in a divorce case is unlikely, so it’s important to consult with your attorney before making any decisions after your divorce decree has been issued. It is also beneficial to contact the other party through your attorney to notify them of an intent to modify since coming to an agreement will hasten approval.

At New Mexico Financial & Family Law, we provide you with the legal and financial assistance you need to help you get through your divorce and seek the best possible results. If you have legitimate issues with the divorce decree or have experienced dramatic life changes, do not hesitate to begin the modification request process.

We know how serious and personal these matters are and want to provide the peace of mind you deserve. Call us at (505) 503-1637 or contact us online to schedule a consultation and we can go over the details of your case at your convenience.

What Parts of a Divorce Decree Can Be Modified?

Once the final decree has been made in your divorce case, there are some aspects that can be modified and some that can’t. Though every case is unique, usually the parts that can be modified follow:

  • Ongoing financial spousal support or alimony
  • Financial child support
  • Child conservatorship (custody)
  • Child visitation rights and scheduling
  • Joint conservatorship to sole conservatorship or vice-versa

The pieces of the divorce decree that are generally not modifiable tend to relate more to immediate payments and property divisions. Lump-sum spousal support payments, asset and property divisions, savings accounts, retirement funds, and debt is rarely modified after a divorce decree is initially passed down. Usually, if these decisions are to be changed, it’s because new evidence has come to light, a mistake was made on behalf of the court, or in cases of fraud.

What Changes Warrant Modification?

Generally, for a modification to be approved by a court, there must be a substantive change to the material conditions that existed at the time of the original divorce decision. This usually means that a modification request has a better chance of success when it’s made sometime after the divorce, usually around 2 years. The actual language in the Divorce Act, Title 17 § 4.1 puts it clearly:

“Before the court makes a variation order in respect of a spousal support order, the court shall satisfy itself that a change in the condition, means, needs or other circumstances of either former spouse has occurred since the making of the spousal support order or the last variation order made”

It’s also worth noting that the court tends to discourage frequent attempts to make modifications to divorce decrees. This tendency puts the emphasis on the filing party to prove that there was a substantial change to the conditions that warrant a change to the existing decision. This means it’s often more difficult to pursue changes to a decree than it is to defend it, meaning the longer it’s been since the last decision and the more substantive the changes to your situation have been since then, the higher the chance of success is in general.

Here are some examples of the kinds of changes that are likely to have an impact on whether or not a modification is likely to succeed:

Changes in Child-rearing Expenses

As a child grows up, the costs of raising them may increase or decrease over time. Beginning or ending daycare, health and dental insurance and treatment, and new clothing, school supplies, housing, and food are just a few of the expenses that can substantiate a significant change in the amount raising a child costs. Having an ample amount of evidence to prove the increased costs of raising the child is a good start to getting a modification to the initial decree approved.

Changes in Finances

Child and spousal support amounts are based on your income at the time of divorce. If you start earning more or less money, or your costs somehow increase dramatically, such as a 200% increase in insurance premiums, or either the payor or recipient of alimony receives a large inheritance, it could have an impact on a divorce modification.

Remarriage or Cohabitation

If the person receiving spousal support remarries, it can mean an end to long-term alimony agreements not made for a lump sum. In order for cohabitation to have a similar effect, one would need to prove that they are receiving enough financial support from the cohabitant to warrant a change in the divorce decree. 

This is not always the case with child support, but depending on the particulars of the case, remarriage or cohabitation could substantiate a big enough change in circumstances to alter a child support decree.

Get Help With Your Divorce Modification in New Mexico

Keep in mind that a divorce modification is strictly the court’s method of dealing with changes to divorce after the final decree has been passed down. Very often, divorced parents or spouses are able to come to agreements outside of the courtroom in order to better their lives, a child’s wellbeing, and the nature of their relationship moving forward. Individuals filing a modification request should do so in good faith, with more interest in their ability to pay and the interests of their child than their own personal comfort or convenience.

Though modifications can be the best way to improve the conditions of your divorce, it’s important to keep in mind that when it comes to the law, the decree ordered by a judge is the final word, and an appeal or modification is necessary to have that final word altered.

If you need help getting the terms of your divorce altered with a modification, New Mexico Financial & Family Law is here for you. Divorces are complicated and it can be easy to mix the legal matters up with the personal, so getting assistance from a law firm with decades of experience in family matters can boost your chances of a favorable outcome. Call us at (505) 503-1637 or contact us online to schedule your consultation today.