Divorce Modification Laws in Massachusetts

During divorce proceedings, the parties and the court must resolve a whole litany of issues including custody of the child(ren), financial support in the form of alimony and/or child support, property division (assets and debts), health insurance coverage, payment of college costs, etc. Some of these issues are addressed on a temporary basis (i.e., certain orders remain in place during the pendency of the divorce). Temporary orders typically include custody and parenting arrangements and financial support matters. When the divorce is finalized, many of these temporary orders become final orders. Final orders also “wrap up” any outstanding issues, particularly regarding the division of property.

In many cases, however, agreements or orders reached during the divorce may not be workable or practical at a later date.

For example, parenting plans and schedules crafted when the parties’ children are toddlers may not be feasible when the children begin school or become teenagers. Additionally, child support and alimony orders issued at the time of the divorce may need to be modified in the future due to a change in jobs or income, remarriage, etc.

In reality, the vast majority of modifications relate to the increase, decrease, or termination of child support and/or alimony, and a change in custody and parenting schedules.

The easiest way to seek a modification of orders is for both parties to agree on the proposed change. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, and one party really wants a modification, the matter heads to court. The person requesting the change(s) must petition the court to reopen the case.

Change of Circumstances

In order to modify an existing court order, the person requesting the change must sufficiently demonstrate to the court that he or she has experienced a material change of circumstances that warrants the modification. Sometimes, this is not always easy to prove. Examples of a material change of circumstances include as follows:

  • A significant change in job that affects the ability to pay the ordered support
  • A change in job that requires a move
  • Many years have passed since the court issued the original orders, and the aging of the children warrant adjustments
  • With respect to alimony, the remarriage of the party awarded the alimony

Not every separation agreement or court order can be modified

As mentioned, provisions regarding financial support and child-related issues may be modified upon the requisite showing of a change in material circumstances. However, not every issue may be modified in the future, including the division of the marital property. Once a property division is agreed upon or court ordered, it may not be modified unless evidence of fraud or something equally serious surfaces down the road.

Filing for a Modification

If you are considering the possibility of requesting a modification of existing orders, or if you are presented with the request to modify an existing agreement/order, it is very important to speak with a reputable, experienced family law attorney before initiating the process or signing off on anything. The modification process can be lengthy and sometimes as acrimonious as the initial divorce. Attorney Rosanne Klovee can discuss your options with you and formulate an appropriate strategy.