Once a Divorce Is Final, Can It Be Changed?

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If you’ve been through the grueling process of divorce but you don’t believe your rights were upheld, it can feel like all hope is lost. However, you may have options to improve your situation.

If the court that heard your case made a mistake or if it comes to your attention that your spouse was not honest about financial matters, you have the right to appeal your divorce, but the applicable laws are exacting. A post-divorce modification is also a possibility.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that if you need to appeal, time is of the essence, and consulting with an experienced divorce attorney in Austin, Texas, sooner rather than later can play a critical role in the outcome of your case.

Filing a Divorce Appeal

Once the judge signs off on your divorce decree, it’s finalized, and the orders therein are legally binding.

Divorce tends to be an emotional rollercoaster, and once it’s finalized, you may be in no condition to go back in. If, however, you recognize that mistakes were made, an appeal may be in order, and if that’s the case, you’ll need to act fast. You have about 30 days from the date your divorce is finalized to file an appeal, which can feel like almost no time at all.

What Is a Divorce Appeal?

An appeal is the legal term used when a higher court is asked to review a lower court’s ruling. In the case of a divorce appeal, it refers to a request that the appeal court review the divorce court’s findings in the matter at hand. Once you file your appeal, the other side has 14 days to file a cross-appeal.

What Are Divorce Appeals Based On?

You can’t appeal the outcome of your divorce simply because you don’t like the judge’s determinations. Instead, your appeal must be based on a concrete concern, such as one of the following issues:

  • You believe the judge made an error of fact, which means the guiding information wasn’t factual.

  • You believe the judge made an error of law, which means he or she applied the law incorrectly.

  • You believe the judge abused his or her discretion in relation to your case.

  • You believe the judge’s ruling showed bias.

Divorce appeals are often based on abuse of discretion, which translates to the judge acting unreasonably or arbitrarily, such as failing to follow the procedural rules or applicable laws.

A divorce decree can also be appealed in response to your ex’s wrongdoing. Consider the following prime examples of wrongdoing that are common in divorce:

  • Your ex engaged in deceitful practices or made false statements that amounted to fraud in the course of your divorce, and it significantly affected your divorce terms. Common examples include lying about income and hiding assets.

  • If you were pressured or otherwise coerced into accepting adverse divorce terms, it could also support a divorce appeal. In such a case, you’ll need to demonstrate that you accepted the terms because you felt threatened and, as a result, were not in a position to negotiate freely.

  • If information falls into your hands that was not available to you at the time of your divorce – and that you had no way to access – it can prove significant. If the information would have affected the outcome of your divorce, it may be time to consider an appeal.

While the window for an appeal is short and the legalities are complex, there are situations in which an appeal is the best path forward.

Post-Decree Modifications

Post-decree modifications are more common than appeals, and they generally apply when certain circumstances have changed to the degree that the current divorce term in question is no longer adequate to the situation. When it comes to the modification of divorce terms, you have options. Discuss your case with an Austin divorce attorney to see what options will work well for you.

Resolving the Matter between Yourselves

If you have a divorce term that no longer makes sense or no longer works for your family, you and your ex can negotiate a modification that is mutually acceptable between yourselves. You should not, however, stop there.

Until you make the matter official with the court, your original terms remain legally binding. As such, if your ex changes ideas down the road, you could be on the wrong side of the law, simply for sticking to terms that you and your ex both agreed to. If you are both in agreement on the modification in question, the court is almost certain to sign off on it.

Having the seasoned legal guidance of an Austin divorce lawyer on your side is advised.

Heading to Mediation

If you and your ex – along with your respective divorce attorneys – are unable to reach an agreement regarding the divorce term that needs modification, mediation may help. At mediation, a professional mediator serving in the role of a neutral third party will help you explore your best options and help you better understand how the court is likely to rule.

Mediation is legally binding only if you reach an agreement that you both sign off on.

Taking the Matter up with the Court

If your best efforts at negotiations and mediation fail, it’s time to resolve the matter through the court. At court, the judge will consider both sides in relation to all the applicable factors before handing down a ruling that you and your ex will be legally bound to follow.

The Matter of Property Division

While most divorce terms can be modified, property division generally cannot. Once your property has been divided between you, you can’t seek a larger portion. If your spouse engaged in financial fraud to ensure a larger share of the marital estate, it’s a different matter, but it will likely need to be resolved through an appeal or a fraud case in family court.

Child Custody Arrangements

The child custody arrangements that you received at the time of your divorce may not work for your family anymore, and attempting to stick to a parenting time schedule that simply doesn’t make sense can be exhausting – if not impossible.

The following common circumstances tend to support modifications to child custody arrangements:

  • The children’s needs have changed. For example, they may be involved in a considerable amount of extracurriculars, have part-time jobs, and be driving themselves around.

  • You, your ex, or both of you may have vastly different work schedules than you did when your divorce decree was finalized.

  • As your children get older, they may find that going back and forth between your homes becomes more and more inconvenient – in relation to their friends, their social lives, and much more.

  • One of you may be traveling more for work, which could leave your children home alone during that parent’s visitation schedule.

When it comes to parenting time, there is a lot to consider, and if the terms that worked for you several years ago no longer do, it’s probably time to seek a modification. Discuss your modification options with an Austin divorce lawyer.

Child Support

Child support is designed to balance financial support for your children between both parents based on each parent’s ability to pay. The calculation process takes a wide range of factors into careful consideration, and any significant changes over time can support a modification of the child support obligation.

Consider these common examples of changes that can merit a child support modification:

  • A significant increase or decrease in either parent’s earnings

  • A significant change in any of the children’s needs, including any special needs

  • A significant change in the number of overnights either parent has with the children

Texas courts frown on parents who are voluntarily underemployed or unemployed as a means of avoiding child support. The same is true of parents who work for cash under the table. And you can expect the judge to do some digging if the situation calls for it.

Spousal Support

Spousal support – or alimony – can also be modified post-divorce. For example, if the recipient of alimony remarries, the payor’s alimony obligation ceases immediately – there’s no need to obtain a modification. However, if the recipient enters a new “supportive relationship” that involves living with a romantic partner for at least six months, a modification may be in order, but it won’t be automatic.

If the payor remarries, it doesn’t affect the alimony obligation.

Additional reasons for alimony modifications include material and substantial changes in either party’s circumstances, which can include any of the following kinds of changes:

  • Changes in employment

  • Changes in income

  • Changes in health

If you think it may be time for a post-decree modification, don’t wait to discuss the matter with a trusted divorce lawyer in Austin, Texas.

FAQ about Changing Divorce Terms

The answers to questions that are frequently asked on the topic of divorce modifications and appeals may help you with your own.

Once a Divorce Is Final, Can It Be Changed?

In highly specific circumstances, a divorce decree can be appealed, which means one or more of the terms therein may be changed. More often, however, divorce terms are changed in response to modifications, which can be sought for child support, child custody arrangements, and alimony.

After a Divorce Is Finalized, Can You Renegotiate?

Once you sign off on your divorce terms in a settlement or after the matter is resolved in court, there is no opportunity to renegotiate. You may be able to pursue an appeal, but the matter will be resolved by the appeals court rather than negotiated.

On the other hand, post-decree modifications are often negotiated, and they generally apply to significant changes in relevant circumstances.

What If I Learn that My Spouse Engaged in Underhanded Financial Dealings that Affected My Divorce Terms?

As soon as you get wind of your ex’s fraudulent practices, you should hire an Austin divorce lawyer with considerable skill and experience handling challenging concerns like yours. An appeal may be in order, or there may be other options for addressing the losses you’ve experienced.

Can My Ex and I Modify a Term Ourselves?

You and your ex can negotiate a modification between yourselves. However, it is in your best interest to work closely with a practiced divorce attorney to ensure that your legal rights are well protected.

Further, it’s important to know that making the modification official with the court is necessary to ensure that you remain on the right side of the law. Divorce terms remain legally binding until they are officially modified.

My Ex Remarried. Do I Still Have to Pay Alimony?

If your ex remarries, your alimony obligation ends automatically. You don’t need to seek a modification with the court but can, instead, simply stop making your alimony payments. It is your ex’s responsibility to inform you of the marriage, and you’re entitled to compensation for any alimony you pay prior to learning of the marriage.

My Kids Spend the Majority of Their Overnights with Me. Do I Still Need to Pay Child Support?

Your child support obligation remains in effect until you obtain a modification through the court. If your children are spending far more overnights with you now than they did when your child support was calculated, it could affect the amount you owe. A wide range of factors go into the child support calculation process, but two of the primary concerns are each parent’s earnings and the number of overnights each parent has with the children.

Look to an Experienced Austin Divorce Attorney for the Help You Need

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Austin is a formidable divorce attorney with an impressive range of experience helping clients like you successfully appeal their divorce decrees and obtain favorable post-decree modifications.

Your parental and financial rights are important, and we encourage you to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 to schedule a FREE consultation and learn more about what we can do to help you today.

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