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Divorce Decree Modifications

It is not uncommon for former spouses to want to modify issues addressed in their original divorce decree, such as child custody or support, months or years after the decree was issued by the court. Post-decree modifications are possible; however, the court will not just grant them for any reason. Generally, the person who wants to modify the divorce decree needs to be able to demonstrate a significant change of circumstances that looks to remain permanent. While custody terms are binding, they are not set in stone. It is possible to have them changed. Technically speaking, you can modify a divorce decree any time after the original order was issued, but the Colorado family court system will not simply change custody terms upon request. Stability is viewed as being in the child’s best interest, and the court will not entertain disputes between ex-spouses about their children under the guise of modification. For that reason, any modification made within six months of the original decree may be more difficult to get approved, and for modification at any time, change must be warranted. At least 5 elements are reviewed by the court when considering a modification request:

  • Whether both former spouses are in agreement over the changes.
  • The level of the child’s integration into the family of the person requesting a modification.
  • Whether there has been a change to the parenting time.
  • Whether one parent often agrees to the other parent making sole decisions for the child.
  • The present living situation as it relates to the child’s safety. If the modifications are being requested because there is a threat to the child’s well-being, the court will weigh this factor heavily.

Preparing For a Modification

Once some time has passed following the issuance of the original approved decree, it can be modified. During the time the modification is under consideration, it is best that you strive to be a model parent who is helpful and an active part of your children’s lives. For the non-primary parent, doing things like skipping your visitation periods or failing to pay child support on time will hurt your case. If you are the primary parent, behavior such as not honoring your former spouse’s time allotment with the children can damage your case. In essence, you want to be able to show the court that you are a capable, loving parent who is primarily focused on the well-being of your child.

Beyond good behavior, it is best to settle disputes with your former spouse amicably for the sake of the children and to make the process less stressful for everyone involved. Handling disputes in writing is often useful because you will have a written record of what happened that you can rely on later should you need to. If you go to court to modify a divorce decree with a long list of premature or minor complaints, the court may view you as reactionary, which will not help your case. By reaching an agreement with your former spouse, the modification process becomes easier and the court is more likely to approve the request.

If both parties are unable to agree on the terms of the modification, you will have to petition the court for the changes to be official. You will have to clearly prove to the court why the requested changes are needed. If, for example, you are paying child support, but now you make significantly less than you did before, you will need to provide evidence to the court that supports this. Changes in custody can be more difficult to substantiate, and the evidence required depends on your situation. Your attorney will be able to help gather what is needed to prove modification is necessary.

Getting a decree modified can be a relatively simple or difficult process, depending on the level of agreement between you and your former spouse. Either way, you will want to have the modification properly drafted and presented to the court so that it has the desired effect and gets approval from the judge. Speak to a family law attorney about your modification as soon as possible. Once the modification is approved, it will only be retroactive back to the date you filed your petition, so you will want to move as quickly as possible, especially if the changes involve child support.

Contact Burnham Law today. Our strategic and experienced divorce attorneys can help you succeed with your divorce decree modification.