How easy is it to modify an existing court order?
Once a divorce is finalized, the agreements between the two parties are issued as part of a collective divorce decree. This divorce decree will contain court orders pertaining to the relevant aspects of the divorce, including court orders for division of marital property, child custody, child support, and the parenting plan/timeshare schedule.
Court orders must be obeyed. Otherwise, a party named in the order can file a complaint and request a motion to enforce. The party in violation of the order could even be held in contempt, which can result in fines, jail time, and other penalties in extreme circumstances. Therefore, if someone feels that the existing court order will not work or should otherwise be changed, they have to request a modification.
Generally, orders dividing property cannot be modified without agreement. Also, alimony that is determined to be “fixed” or “non-modifiable” cannot be modified.
The things that can be modified after a divorce are generally limited to, custody (timeshare), the amount of child support, and the amount of modifiable (indefinite) alimony.
Obtaining a court order modification can be easy if there is agreement among the parties. All three of the following circumstances should be met:
- The change is needed because a new situation has emerged, such as a parent needs to move, or because substantial new information has come to light
- The change is seen as beneficial or acceptable to the well-being of the parties involved, especially if the court order involves children who will be affected
- Both former spouses consent to the change
Working with an experienced New Mexico family law attorney can help everyone ensure that their reasons for requesting a modification are sound. In the event the other ex-spouse objects or the court raises questions, an attorney can help their client prepare for hearings and negotiations to seek the outcome they feel is in everyone’s best interests.
Court Order Modifications Are Usually Requested Following a Substantial Financial or Life Change
Family courts are often reluctant to grant court order modifications based on minor changes in circumstance. The courts generally require a “substantial and material change in circumstances” before modifying custody, support, or alimony. In terms of child support, the courts expect parties to only request modifications if the amount of support will change by 20% or more.
A court order modification is seen as most appropriate when major changes have happened in the life of the person requesting the order. Major life changes can include the loss of a long-term job, or a major life change, such as needing to relocate to a new state. It may also involve major financial hardships, including an inability to pay bills or remain in the current residence. If, for example, someone’s partner or a close family member has fallen ill, and the person making a request must provide financial support and care in such a way that dramatically changes their schedule and finances, it may be seen as a valid reason for requesting a modification.
Modifications can also come as a result of a major decision made by one or both parties in regard to their children. When children reach age 14 in New Mexico and have the capacity to voice preferences about which parent they want to live with or how often they want to see parents, the family court will allow their input and consider it when approving certain modifications. On the other hand, a parent may decide they don’t want to be a part of the child’s life, which can permit the other parent to obtain sole custody and only allow visitation at their own discretion.
Although courts require a “substantial and material change in circumstances,” sometimes the mere passage of many years in the children’s lives will be enough, as courts understand that the desires or needs of a five-year-old, for example, are likely very different than a twelve-year-old. After several years of complying with a parenting plan that is no longer working, it may be possible to seek a modification merely because it is no longer suiting the family–so long as there has been some significant passage of time since the prior order.
The life changes or mindset changes being discussed should always be backed up with evidence. Parents claiming dramatic schedule changes should track dates missed with visitation or document a job acceptance letter discussing relocation, for instance. Someone claiming they are unable to make child support payments should document their recent pay, any expenses, and any past-due bills or other examples of hardship. Court order modifications are much more likely to be granted when the person making a request can thoroughly document their assertions.
Modifications Should Generally Be in the Parties’ Best Interests, Especially for Any Children
A family court will not approve a modification that seems substantially in favor of one party, nor will they grant a modification that could potentially have the effect of harming a child’s well-being. Anyone requesting a modification should anticipate this, and they should be prepared to assert why the requested change is beneficial to everyone involved.
Raise the Chances of Having a Court Order Modification Granted by Working With New Mexico Family Lawyers
New Mexico Financial & Family Law is familiar with the family court system in Albuquerque and the way modification requests are typically handled. We are prepared to help you form a workable modified agreement and, as appropriate, negotiate with your ex-spouse to seek the best outcome for everyone.
In cases where children may be endangered or quick action must be taken, we are also ready to help you document your cause for concern and assert the best revision of the divorce decree possible. In short, we will help you navigate the path towards an improved court order and an improved state of being for all parties using any means possible.
Learn more about what it takes to get a court order modified and how you can raise your chances of success in a no-obligation case review. Call (505) 503-1637 or contact us online to schedule your appointment today.