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Modifying and Enforcing Divorce Agreements: What You Need to Know

By: The Igwe Firm
June 14, 2016

During divorce proceedings, the conditions and agreements provided by the settlement are supposed to address many important issues of divorced life, such as alimony, child support, child custody, and retirement benefits just to name a few. At the conclusion of the original proceedings, the divorcing couple essentially resolves all issues and comes to a resolution with a written property settlement agreement or by a court order. This makes the settlements bound by law, and both parties are required to comply. But of course, with anything in life, things change, and if your circumstances change in a way that you feel are at odds with your divorce agreement, then you can potentially modify your divorce agreement to better fit your present situation. Here’s how it works:

Consent is Key

If you plan on modifying your divorce agreement outside of court, then you and your former partner must both consent to such changes. Mediation is always a good tool to help navigate the proceedings outside of court, and it can help save on legal fees, but there is also the very pronounced risk of running into a disagreement, and stymieing the proceedings. Ideally, consent on both sides should be present but it is not always the case. Oftentimes, one part seeks to modify the divorce agreement due to a change in circumstance that is not beneficial to the other.

Proving a Change in Circumstance

If you cannot resolve your differences outside of court, then proving your change in circumstance is the first step towards effectively modifying your agreement. If you cannot resolve outside of court, then the natural next step is to file a motion to have a hearing, where you and your attorney will have the opportunity to justify your reasoning for the request of the change by demonstrating your change in circumstance – whether it be a change of income, living conditions, health, remarriage etc. Your former partner will also have the opportunity in the hearing to argue against the change.

What’s Normal and What’s Not

When it comes to most modifications, such as alimony, child support, visitation, and child custody agreements, the court is usually amenable to such changes without much resistance. The most complicated kinds of changes usually involved the distribution of property. In Pennsylvania, as in many other states, marital property is divided by the rules of “equitable distribution,” meaning that all property acquired within the marriage by either party is subject to equitable distribution, while “non-marital” property usually is exempt from the equitable distribution process. The tricky part comes down to reinterpreting marital property to non-marital property after the creation of a divorce agreement, which can be very complicated and difficult to prove.

When it comes to other major issues such as child custody or alimony, the process to modify the agreement is much more straightforward. Essentially, for each modification you would want to make, you would need to provide proof for a corresponding change in circumstance. For example, if you are looking to lessen your child support payments and your former partner is unwilling to negotiate, then you need to provide proof that your income has decreased to a point that the court would then find fair to modify your divorce agreement.

Of course, all of the issues of modifying your divorce agreement can and should be resolved with the help of qualified, compassionate attorney that is willing to fight for you and is sympathetic to your needs. Modification requests are common, and they are commonly resolved without a long, drawn out process, but the only way to ensure that your rights will be upheld in court is by hiring the right attorney for the job.

Learn more about Family Law at the Igwe Firm HERE.

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