Parts Of A Divorce Judgment Are Never Final

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Most of my divorce clients are patient and cooperative. They work hard with me to bring difficult chapters of their lives to close. Just as they are finalizing their divorce, I have the unenviable task of reminding them that parts of their divorce judgment are subject to court modification (I have also mentioned this previously, but it bears repeating at the conclusion of the case).

Maryland law gives our circuit courts or trial courts the continuing power to “from time to time, set aside or modify its decree or order concerning the child.” Accordingly, custody, child support and related awards are never final. All cases involving children, whether the issues concern day-to-day scheduling and/or legal decision-making, are subject to modification by the court and upon a showing of “changes in circumstances.” In these cases, the court may modify its prior order to reflect new terms designed to ensure “the best interest of the children.”

Perhaps some of the most difficult modification cases involve relocation. One parent may be required to move cross-country due to job considerations. A parenting schedule, painstakingly negotiated and providing for shared parenting time, may no longer be viable in light of these changes. The courts may thereby modify these terms, providing for the children's best interests.

Also, child support is always subject to review. Child support may be reviewed if a parent becomes unemployed, changes jobs, or experiences a significant change in income. Maryland law includes child support guidelines: a formula that provides predictability of child support awards and is based upon the parents’ respective incomes. Some agreements even provide for periodic adjustments to child support, although these are in the distinct minority.

Maryland law also provides that a child who is over the age of 16 may file his or her own complaint to change custody. In such cases, the court is required to hold a hearing and may amend the original divorce judgment to change custody to the parent requested by the child.

Courts may modify the terms of an agreement that relate to children. Likewise, a court may modify spousal support, unless an agreement provides that the provisions with respect to alimony are not subject to any court modification. Again, changes in employment and/or income are among the reasons to ask a court to reconsider a prior alimony award.

Whether the custody and/or support provisions of a judgment of divorce or separation agreement should be changed may present complicated legal issues. If you have questions concerning the modifiability of the terms of your decree, you should consult with an attorney who is familiar with this area of the law and who will assist you in making informed decisions. David Diggs is experienced in all facets of family law. If you need further information regarding this subject, contact The Law Office of David V. Diggs LLC, 8684 Veterans Highway, Suite 204, in Millersville, by calling 410-244-1171 or emailing david@diggslaw.com.

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