When Can I Make Modifications to a Divorce or Child Custody Agreement?

So, the divorce process is over. But in the back of your mind, you might already be thinking about the right moment to modify any existing agreements in the future. Your alimony or child support payments might be expensive, perhaps you feel you aren’t getting paid enough from your ex-spouse, or maybe you’re looking for a better child custody agreement than the one in place.

The state of Georgia has strict laws about modifying existing divorce agreements pertaining to alimony, child support, and child custody. But modifications do happen for clear, distinct reasons. Here are a few reasons that the state of Georgia may modify your divorce-related agreements.

A substantial change in income or financial status.

Check with your attorney and state law about what constitutes a “substantial” change, but know that you can’t alter any payments because of standard cost of living increases or small changes in income or financial status (like getting a 2% raise or losing a small sum of money in the stock market). Substantial change means major life events like losing a job, a sharp increase in medical expenses, or a disability that affects your income.

Substantial changes in income work the other way too. A significant increase in income from a raise, a new job, or a booming business may also impact alimony and child support payments. A court will need to see proof of this substantial change in income or financial status, and your family law attorney can help you collect that proof. That means if you’ve experienced a significant financial hit or if your ex-spouse suddenly gained access to more income, you may be able to modify any existing agreements in a way that benefits you.

You or your ex-spouse cohabitate with someone else.

One clear way that alimony payments and even child custody gets modified is when cohabitation begins. Another person’s income added to a household not only represents a significant change in financial status but also may impact your children’s best interests—positively or negatively depending on how their environment changes with the introduction of a new person.

A major reason that alimony exists is because a spouse presumably needs financial support because they are now on their own. Living with someone else who brings in an additional paycheck largely negates many of the reasons that established the original alimony payments. If your ex-spouse starts living with someone else, that’s a major opportunity for you to lower your alimony payments. And know that if you start living with someone, your ex-spouse may justifiably seek to lower the amount of payments they send you.

A child turns 14.

Once a child turns 14, they acquire more rights and freedom about which parents they want to spend time with. While a few restrictions still hold, the difference in freedom is immense. If a child decides they want to spend all or part of the time living with a particular parent, the court or a parent can do little to stop them. This newfound freedom will profoundly affect child custody agreements.

A parent moves out of state.

While a child custody agreement may not necessarily change when a parent moves out of state, it certainly changes the living dynamic. A court will give a fresh review of the child’s “best interests” based on the new situation and possibly modify any child custody agreements. For example, if a parent moves from Georgia to California, it may not be in the child’s best interests to take a five-hour flight each way every weekend to visit a parent. Instead, the child custody agreement may change to once a month or alter the times and length of time that a child stays with that parent. Even more likely, the non-custodial parent may be entitled to gain primary custody of the child if the primary custodian is moving far enough away that the non-custodial parents visitations rights are substantially affected.

You need to remain vigilant about changes in your ex-spouse’s life so that you’re not paying more than your fair share, especially if your ex-spouse makes a lot more money or has a new significant other adding to the household income. Also, as your children get older or you or your ex-spouse move out of state, you need to keep an eye on custody agreements that might possibly get modified or changed altogether.

If any significant changes take place in your life or your ex-spouse’s life that you think may present an opportunity to modify an agreement, call us for a consultation.