How to Modify or Alter an Existing Divorce or Paternity Order

Modifications of prior divorce orders or paternity orders are, in our experience, one of the more common types of family law cases in Utah. The reason so many people seek modifications is often due to some mistake or omission in the initial case, such as where someone:

  • Represented themselves without an attorney;
  • Agreed to something they shouldn't have because, at the time, they wanted to move on with their lives;
  • Wanted to avoid the costs of hiring an attorney;
  • Simply wasn't aware of when and how something could become an issue; or
  • Where circumstances have changed and a once workable arrangement has broken down.

As many people later learn, not using a good attorney the first time around can become much more expensive and troublesome later on, whether monetarily or emotionally. Unfortunately, once a decree or paternity order is entered it becomes much more difficult to change things moving forward. This is because a party attempting to modify a prior order must show that a "change in circumstances" has occurred since the original order, and that modifying the prior order is fair for the parties or the children.

There are a host of specific circumstances that may satisfy the substantial and material change in circumstances analysis undertaken by the courts when considering a request for modification. The best way to assess the likelihood of successfully modifying a prior order would be to consult with an attorney at Nelson Jones, PLLC, in Sandy, regarding the specific facts of your case.

Modifying Custody Agreements

If you are seeking to change the custody agreement outlined in your divorce or paternity decree, you need to show that a significant change has occurred warrants a change in parent time. Oftentimes, a party seeking modification simply has "buyer's remorse" and wants to change things because, in hindsight, the prior order is unfair. While the prior order may indeed be unfair, this does not typically constitute a substantial and material change in circumstances, as is required for modification. That being said, changes in work schedules, living arrangements, agreements by the parties, or other circumstances can be enough to secure a modified order.

We can help you determine the best strategy regarding a custody modification. Some factors to consider include the capacity of the other parent to raise the child, the child's desires to be with either parent, abusive actions taken by the other party or a change in the geographical proximity to the child.

Modifying Alimony or Child Support

Utah courts have the power to modify alimony and child support awards provided that there has been a substantial material change in circumstances not foreseeable at the time of the divorce. Practically speaking, a material and substantial change in circumstances is usually related to a major change in the earning capacity of one of the parties or a change in their relative wealth. Examples include losing a job, receiving a large pay cut or increase, change in either party's ability to work, receipt of a substantial inheritance, lottery winnings, or receipt of Social Security or other retirement benefits.

The language of the decree is very important to the question of modification and should be thoughtfully analyzed by a competent legal professional. It's also important to be sure that Utah courts have jurisdiction to hear your case. Because addressing modification actions can be complicated, we strongly recommend that those interested in pursuing a modification utilized the services of an experienced attorney.

Schedule a consultation with our seasoned family lawyers to ensure that you are eligible for a modification or alteration. Call 801-981-8779 or send an email online to get started.