How to Change the Deal in a Divorce Agreement

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on June 11, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When you first got divorced, you were just relieved to be done with your spouse. But now your initial relief has been replaced by dismay. You believe a mistake was made in the lower court or your circumstances have changed and the court ordered arrangement will not work for you.

You want to challenge or change the terms of your divorce or modify the decree to accommodate changed circumstances. And you can. Let's consider your options.

Appealing a Ruling

Appeals are available to lawsuit parties for a limited time after trial (how much time will depend on state statutes). They allow the parties to argue that a legal error was made in the lower court that requires review by the appellate court. That court looks at the legal determinations of the judge below but will generally not disturb any factual findings. When an appeals court finds that a lower court has erroneously applied the law, and that this error has a meaningful impact on the outcome, it may order a new trial or some other form of relief.

In other words, an appeal addresses the technicalities, case procedure, in a written brief with legal arguments about errors in the record below. Writing appeals is different from arguing at trial and not all lawyers handle this type of claim.

Appealing a divorce decree is one way to get it changed, but this option is only available for a limited time after the lower court's judgment is entered. In divorces, appellate courts are reluctant to reverse or second-guess judgments because cases are very fact-driven, meaning outcomes depend overwhelmingly on facts rather than law, and the facts are the business of lower courts.

Motion to Modify

A much less limited option than an appeal is a motion to modify a divorce decree. This type of filing can be made at any time that circumstances demand it. Say you were laid off or your job is requiring you to move to another state. Any official changes to your arrangements for support, child custody and more can be modified via this type of motion.

Of course, not every change in circumstances warrants a modification of your obligations -- if you have an idea for a startup and need seed money, don't ask the judge to change your child support order. You will need to show the court that you need relief.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you are concerned about your divorce decree and considering an appeal, or you need to modify your agreement for whatever reason, speak to a lawyer. Get help.

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