Typically, a divorce decree is enforceable and must be followed from the moment the judge enters a decision. However, in most states, there are scenarios where a person may be able to reopen a divorce decree and renegotiate more favorable terms.
The most common scenario where a divorce is renegotiated after the fact is where there has been a material change in circumstances. For example, when either parent receives a significant change in income-whether due to promotion, job transfer, or unexpected unemployment-it may be possible to have child support changed to reflect the parent’s new financial circumstances. Another situation that might give rise to a modification is if one parent is offered a job out of state and therefore needs to change a custody or visitation agreement.
Another common situation where a person may be able to renegotiate the terms of a divorce arises when the other party does not comply with the court’s order. For example, if one parent is consistently late in transferring the child or refuses to make child support payments, the other parent has the ability to go back to court. In some cases, it may be possible to negotiate a new agreement to avoid the time and expense of returning to the court system. That could open a door to a party requesting terms that are more beneficial than those contained in the original divorce decree.
In some cases, modification and enforcement of a court order may go hand-in-hand. It is possible for one party to ask the judge to penalize the other party for not following the court order and to change the order in order to help ensure future compliance.
Another situation where it may be possible to reopen a divorce decree is when one spouse locates hidden assets after the case is closed. Not all spouses answer financial disclosures truthfully. It is unfortunately possible for a person to stumble across hidden property or assets months or even years after judge enters an order dissolving the marriage. In that situation, it may be possible for the innocent spouse to bring a motion to set aside the judgment and ask the judge to award a fair share of the hidden assets.
Divorce may feel final to the parties involved. However, where the situation warrants it, it may be possible for a party to modify or set aside a judgment to seek a fair outcome.