Can Divorce Decrees be Modified in Pennsylvania
Strictly speaking, divorce is final after a decree is issued. However, the orders made in a divorce case on matters of child custody, child support, and alimony can be modified under certain circumstances.
For instance, one party may receive primary parental care responsibilities for any shared children, or another will need to make monthly alimony payments.
When there have been substantial changes in personal circumstances, you may approach the court with an application to modify the orders decided in a divorce. You can file for modification of custody orders, child support orders, and alimony if the settlement agrees provides that alimony is modifiable.
To change the amount, frequency, or interval of alimony payments from one spouse to another after a divorce, there will need to be a clause in the finalized divorce agreement to allow alimony modifications.
In the majority of cases, the amount of alimony remains modifiable based on a change in one party's income or employment. The process to modify alimony payments can get complicated without having proper representation.
How Long Do Alimony Payments Last?
According to Pennsylvania law, alimony will terminate when the ex-partner receiving payments remarries, moves in with a romantic partner,, the alimony reaches the end of the term, or either party dies. Occasionally parties may agree that the term of alimony may not terminate earlier than the end of the full-term.
Why Would You Modify Alimony?
Life is fluid, and there can be extenuating circumstances to make the payment amount set in the finalized agreement impractical. You may have lost your job or been in an accident that diminished your earning potential. Alternatively, your ex-partner may have found a job that pays them more, so they no longer need the alimony support.
Working with an experienced Pennsylvania family law attorney can help you reach an equitable outcome.
Modifying Property Division
After a court ruling on divorce, both parties' property will be divided equitably,. According to Pennsylvania law, this division is almost always final. A court will only make an exception if you can prove the division was made fraudulent, there were mistakes made, or you were under duress.
Modifying Child Support and Custody
Like alimony, you can also pursue modifications on child support and child custody orders.
Child Support Modifications
In child support matters, one parent can allege their circumstances have changed significantly to apply to modify child support. Like alimony modification, one parent receiving a raise or one parent losing a job can be considered significant changes.
Child Custody Modifications
Pennsylvania's laws determining custody direct parents to make decisions in the children's best interests. In custody matters, parents can argue to be the physical and legal custodians of shared children. The state pushes for shared legal custody, which covers matters like which schools they attend, religious matters, where they obtain healthcare, where they live, and how they are brought up.
Breaking Down Physical Custody
Physical custody refers to children's living arrangements. Pennsylvania recognizes three separate types of physical custody: shared, primary, or sole custody. With shared custody, children will split their time between two permanent homes.
In a primary custody scenario, parents will still share custody, but one parent will be the “primary” or “custodial” parent. This parent cares for the children for more than 50% of the time and could be responsible for more physical care of the child.
Finally, with sole custody, one parent provides the children's permanent home, and the non-custodial parent has visitation rights. It's important to note, non-custodial parents in these situations often still have shared legal custody with the sole physical custodian.
What Do You Need to Achieve Post-Decree Modifications?
Suppose you feel your circumstances have changed after a final divorce decree. In that case, you may be able to apply to modify the orders pertaining to child support or custody. If you included a clause to allow alimony modification, you'd be able to file a petition to change the order with the domestic relations court that handled your initial divorce.
Even if you make a verbal agreement to change the child support amount or parent plan, the court may still hold everyone to the orders made in the final divorce agreement.
The Process to Receive a Divorce Modification
To prove the need to modify divorce orders, you'll need to show there was a significant change in your circumstances. To modify alimony or to file for an early termination of alimony, you may need to file to modify your alimony payments. Child support terminates when the children graduate from high school, or if the children reaches 18 years, whichever comes last, but at any time before the Order terminates, modifications may occur to address changes to income or physical custody arrangements.
The court will decide if the change should be approved or denied. Your chances of success depend on how well you can prove a change in circumstances.
Let Gibson Family Law, PLLC Help with Your Post-Decree Modifications
The last thing you may want to do after reaching the final decision in a divorce case is revisit it. It can be stressful and daunting to review your circumstances alone, but sometimes it is necessary to change the decision reached regarding your divorce.
Relying on an experienced Family Law attorney like Susan Gibson can give you a great chance to reach a new agreement with your ex-partner.
Susan can help you show how your circumstances have changed since the court ruled on your divorce, and she'll help you build your case.