If you’ve gone to court to settle a family law matter and the court issued an order for time-sharing, alimony, or child support, you may be under the impression that the court’s order provides the “last word” on the issue (or issues) that it addresses.
Sometimes, though, circumstances change, and the existing order may not work for you anymore. Does this mean you’re simply out of luck?
Thankfully, it doesn’t: time-sharing, alimony, and child support are modifiable in Florida. Depending on the nature of the change in your situation, you may be able to successfully petition the court for a modification of the existing order.
The court won’t modify an order for just any reason, though. In this article, we’ll talk about some of the different circumstances that can provide adequate legal grounds for modifying an existing court order for time-sharing, alimony, or child support in Florida.
What Are the Grounds for Modification?
In general, modifications to existing judgments in family law cases require a material and substantial change in circumstances that wasn’t anticipated at the time of the original judgment. This applies to both divorce and child custody cases. Modifications to child support or timesharing must also be in the best interest of the children.
Listed below are some examples of changes that would provide valid grounds for modification:
- If the parties’ incomes change significantly, there may be cause for a modification. A change in income can be caused by a change in jobs, job loss, or illness or disability.
- An extended illness or disability can cause a number of changes that may require an adjustment up or down in the amount of support paid to the spouse or for the minor children. Not only might income affect a former spouse’s income, but medical expenses can affect the parties’ need for and ability to pay support. Illness and disability can also affect the parties’ capabilities or schedules in caring for their children, and that might also justify a change in timesharing and support between the parents.
- A supportive relationship can also provide grounds for a modification. For instance, when a former spouse receiving alimony lives with a new partner for a significant time and shares expenses like rent or mortgage, their need for support decreases, and the paying spouse can request a modification. Although Florida does not recognize common law marriage, Florida law does recognize that some relationships provide the economic support equivalent to marriage, and a modification is still warranted.
- Similarly, if a former spouse moves a new partner into a home that’s being paid for by his or her ex-spouse through alimony (and if the new partner doesn’t provide income or pay their own way in expenses), then the former spouse clearly doesn’t need as much as he or she was getting. After all, the former spouse has enough to support another person in the household.
- Retirement is another life change that often isn’t anticipated when the original judgment is ordered. Parties don’t know their future health conditions, year of retirement, or retirement earnings until they reach retirement age. As retirement nears, changes to ordered alimony payments may be warranted.
- The birth of additional children who require support can affect the payor’s ability to pay alimony to an ex-spouse, and may warrant a modification. (It is important to note, however, that modifications are not typically granted in favor of a party who has made lifestyle changes or voluntary choices, so don’t count on having additional children to relieve your alimony burden.)
Modifications are especially common in child custody cases where the court has ordered a parenting plan, which is often written when the child is young. As the child grows and years pass, things inevitably change, and the parenting plan will no longer fit the needs of the parties. This means that modification is usually more a question of “when” than “if” in cases that involve children.
Is Modification Always Necessary, or Can You Make Changes by Agreement?
When balancing between the terms of a court order and the inevitable variations in everyday life, it’s generally acceptable to make small, informal changes by simply agreeing with the other parent (for example: “I’ll pick her up Saturday instead of Sunday this week”). But it’s important to remember that the parenting plan is a court order. When parents agree to significant and long-lasting changes without seeking the court’s approval, they put themselves at some risk. Depending on the language in the parenting plan, they could be in violation of a court order.
Even if the plan allows for the parents to make agreements to modify the terms of the plan, informal agreements that aren’t ratified by the court can always be later revoked when one party becomes dissatisfied. When that occurs, the parties are held to the last plan ordered by the court, which by then could be many years out of date.
Where you live is another aspect that’s built into the existing court order, which means that you’ll need to petition the court for relocation any time you want to move to a new home more than 50 miles from your original address. Asking forgiveness instead of permission is not a good idea — the court will most likely deny your petition, and you could face additional consequences for violating a court order.
In general, if you need to make a change to your timesharing arrangements or move to a new location, it’s best to be proactive and seek help from an experienced family law attorney rather than trying to solve things on your own.
What the Modification Process Looks Like
How you’ll go about modifying your existing order depends on whether you and your spouse can come to an agreement regarding the new terms. If you agree, you can work with an attorney to write up a new agreement and submit it to the court for approval. If you don’t agree, though, you’ll have to work with your lawyer to file a petition for modification.
There’s no sugar-coating it: modifications can be expensive. In order to keep costs down and expedite the process, it’s a good idea to plan your strategy in advance, and it also helps to have a skilled negotiator on your side. Your overall financial planning strategy needs to consider the potential costs of modification over the course of your children’s remaining years until they turn 18 — and the costs over any remaining time that you’ll be paying or receiving alimony.
The initial costs of a modification should be weighed with the modification’s costs or benefits over time; every $100 per month change in support is worth $21,600 over an 18-year period and can make a big difference in your financial security.
Contact the Devolder Law Firm for Help with Modification and Relocation in New Tampa, Wesley Chapel, and the Tampa Bay Area
Petitioning the court for modification and relocation doesn’t have to break the bank and cause a major headache. At the Devolder Law Firm, we work closely with our clients to find efficient, affordable legal solutions that meet their needs and address the unique circumstances they face. We also excel when it comes to helping our clients write forward-thinking settlement agreements and parenting plans to minimize the need for later modifications, which is an important step toward keeping legal costs down.
Remember that the key to a successful modification is to be proactive, so don’t wait — call our legal team at 813-773-8233 or fill out our convenient online contact form and we’ll get in touch right away to schedule an initial consultation.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.