At the end of your divorce proceedings, the court will issue a divorce decree. It is the formal order (sometimes called the final judgment) that says your marriage is over. A divorce decree is issued in limited divorce cases and in absolute divorce cases.
However, just because the divorce decree is a legally binding document, that does not mean the decree cannot be altered later down the line should the need arise. Maryland allows for the modification of divorce decrees if there has been:
- A material change in circumstances. As an example, if you or your ex-spouse are subjected to a significant increase or decrease in salary, or if you or your ex-spouse becomes very ill, you can petition the court to modify your divorce decree.
- Verifiable fraud. An example would be if your spouse willfully and knowingly commits an act of fraud – such as lying about assets, or withholding key information that is important to the divorce proceedings – you can petition the court to modify your decree in light of the new information. Understand that this works both ways, so it is critically important that you be honest with your divorce lawyer and with the court when you file for divorce.
- Threats of violence and/or acts of violence. If your ex-spouse threatened you with some form of harm or retribution, you can petition for a modification. Acting under duress can invalidate a divorce decree.
Is modifying a divorce decree different from modifying a custody agreement?
Your child custody agreement is a part of your divorce decree, and is therefore always subject to modification when the need arises. Custody is always modifiable so long as the children are minors, and the modifiability is not dependent on the Judgment of Divorce being subject to modification.
Generally speaking, in an uncontested divorce, a couple will create a marital settlement agreement (also called a separation agreement, or a property settlement agreement). This document outlines how the couple wishes to proceed in matters of custody, support, alimony, and/or property division. If the couple can agree on some issues but not others, they can create a partial agreement; the court will render decisions on the rest.
When can’t a divorce decree be modified?
Child support and custody can always be subject to modification because the best interests of the child are the primary concern of the court. However, other aspects of your decree – such as alimony – may be protected from modification if there is a provision in the settlement that says it is not subject to modification, or if there is an express waiver included in the settlement.
Modifying any part of your divorce decree can be challenging, especially if your ex-spouse does not want to cooperate, or opposes the modification. Working with an experienced divorce attorney is in your best interest. At Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC, we assist clients in need of post-divorce modifications to custody and support agreements, and alimony agreements.
Things change. When they do, you can rely on our Annapolis divorce attorneys to help you through the modification process. To schedule a consultation, please call Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC at 410.921.2422 or fill out our contact form.