Can I modify my divorce decree?

August 5, 2019 | 2 minute read
Posted by Matthew Zentz on August 5, 2019

Generally speaking, courts have a strong preference for finality. There is so much effort on behalf of everyone involved in any kind of litigation that once an order is issued, the court is typically reluctant to change its position absent certain circumstances. In the case of a divorce, the standard the court considers will be different depending on what a petitioner is attempting to modify. For example, there are statutory requirements in place for when child support may be modified while modifying custody or parenting time will be dependent on the facts and circumstances and what a court believes in the best interest of the child.

Substantial Change Required

While courts prefer finality, there is an understanding that there may be reasons to modify a decree. The simplest way to go about modification is that if both parties agree to a change in writing, the court will generally accept reasonable changes that are consistent with the law.

It is more common that a party will seek a change when they are in conflict with the opposing party. In these cases, a court will require a substantial change in circumstances. In fact, the Indiana Court of Appeals has held that, "Trial courts are prohibited from modifying a child custody order unless: (1) the modification is in the best interests of the child; and (2) there is a substantial change in one or more statutory best interest factors governing child custody determinations." Bailey v. Bailey, 7 N.E.3d 340 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014).

That means that unless there is evidence presented to a court of something materially different that is having a negative impact on the child(ren), a court will not modify an existing divorce decree.

What about Child Support?

The rules for modifying child support are different than the rules for modifying other terms of a divorce decree. Because child support exists for the support of children involved in family legal disputes, they can be litigated until the child is emancipated and can be modified to provide the appropriate support for the child(ren) as required by law.

Under Indiana Code 13-16-8-1, child support can be modified if a petitioner can show that either there has been a substantial change in circumstances OR that circumstances exist such that a new child support calculation would be more than 20% different than the current order AND that child support has been modified in the past year.

If you are facing issues related to an existing court order and your children, please call Homan & Zentz, P.C. to find out more.