When you receive a divorce decree, the marriage is over, but that doesn't mean the decisions made in the divorce, like alimony, child support, and/or the parenting plan are final, too. These things can be modified from time to time when certain facts are present.
The attorneys at Veliz Katz Law provide legal services in family law and divorce. We also help our clients obtain modifications when they are necessary, but we also help our clients argue against them when the request is unwarranted. Here, we provide an overview of modifications of alimony, child support, and parenting plans. If you want answers to your specific questions, contact our Orlando office to schedule a free initial consultation.
As mentioned, a divorce decree may be final, but specific issues that are often hammered out during the divorce can be modified even after the divorce decree has been issued. These issues include:
The first thing to know about spousal support or alimony and modifications is this: if spousal support wasn't established in the original divorce decree, you cannot ask for it later. If spousal support was in the original divorce decree, certain language may restrict its modification. For example, language like "non-modifiable" alimony will mean that it cannot be changed at another time regardless of the circumstances. Absent this language, however, alimony in a divorce decree can sometimes be modified with respect to the amount of the alimony and the duration of the alimony.
Modifications are only made under certain circumstances. According to Florida Stat. § 61.14, spousal support can be modified or terminated when there is an unexpected or involuntary event or substantial change in circumstances that affects either:
the ability of the former spouse's ability to pay the alimony; or
the former spouse's need for additional support.
The question, however, is what exactly qualifies as unexpected, involuntary events or substantial changes in circumstances. Orange County family law courts and other family law courts throughout Florida have considered a number of reasons as sufficient to modify spousal support. These same courts have found other reasons as insufficient.
Availability of medical insurance
Payee remarried or cohabitates with another (known as the supportive relationship law)
Payee fraud (to obtain alimony)
Expensive second marriage
Payee's moderately improved economic situation
Voluntary job resignation
Intentional job termination
When circumstances change, and you need to update a child custody or support order, contact us for assistance.
Child support – whether awarded by divorce, paternity case, or a Florida Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement Office support order – can always be modified. Unlike alimony cases, child support can never be stated as un-modifiable. There are two general requirements that must be established:
the requested modification must be at least 15% or $50, whichever is greater; and
there must be a substantial change in circumstances to qualify for the modification.
Substantial changes in circumstances that can qualify for modification include things like:
change in income – the payor or payee may get a raise or lose a job;
change in parenting time – the payor or payee may engage in a different parenting time pattern that does not conform specifically to the parenting plan, which is what the court used to determine child support in the first place; or
change in expenses – expenses change all the time given certain life situations, e.g., there could be extra daycare costs, alimony may end for the primary care parent, one parent may lose health insurance, payroll taxes may change and affect net income, etc.
To note, if you are in the military, there are special rules that apply to modifications to child custody. Always seek the counsel of an experienced child custody attorney in Orlando to discuss your options.
Parenting plans can be modified. Oftentimes, parents who work well together may be flexible and allow one parent to have the child longer this week and then allow the other parent longer time the following week. Flexibility is always important when co-parenting.
But there are times that a substantial change requires a more permanent change to the parenting plan. For example, one parent may have to relocate for work or may start working weekends and will no longer be able to watch a young child during that time. When a more permanent change is necessary, parents can still make the change by agreement – which should always be in writing – but to protect yourself, it is always best made through the courts. Using the court, however, is unavoidable when one parent objects to the modification.
When a request to modify a parenting plan is brought before the court, the judge will always consider what is in the best interests of the child. The court will likely allow the modification when there is a substantial and unanticipated change of circumstances:
"substantial" refers to a permanent or almost permanent nature; and
"unanticipated" refers to situations where either of the parties did not or could not have known about the new circumstances at the time the original parenting plan was drafted.
Also, it's important to note that as the child grows, the child may have a preference where and when to be with which parent.
There are two ways to seek a post-divorce modification in Florida:
by mutual agreement between you and your ex-spouse or former partner; or
through the divorce courts.
In the first scenario, you and your former spouse or partner can come to a mutual agreement. You can get it in writing if you want (and which is preferable to protect yourself). You can even file it with the court if you want.
In the second scenario, which is usually necessary for alimony modification and recommended for all modifications, you must file a petition with the court. When there are objections, a trial may be necessary. Again, retaining the right attorney for you who has experience with successfully obtaining or arguing against modifications is as important as the insight that experience nurtures.
Modifications of post-divorce decrees are available to you, but in most cases – especially when the other ex-spouse objects – you will need compelling evidence to obtain or deny that modification. Contact the experienced family law attorneys at Veliz Katz Law today and schedule a free initial consultation to learn more about your options.