When a Connecticut post-divorce modification becomes necessary

In certain circumstances, it may be necessary to modify a Connecticut divorce decree after it has been entered by the court.

Sometimes, once the ink dries on a couple's divorce decree, that's the end of it. The parties go their separate ways, and make lives independent of one another. If they have children, they try to co-parent in a respectful, positive manner. If they don't, it's possible they may literally never see one another again. They may chalk their time as a married couple up to "life experience" and move on to bigger, better things.

In other circumstances, though, it becomes necessary for a once-married couple to revisit arrangements they originally set forth in their divorce settlement. Commonly, modifications to divorce orders are necessary if new issues have arisen with regards to child custody, visitation, child support or alimony (also known as "spousal support" or "spousal maintenance"). It may be the case that one party is no longer able to make pre-arranged alimony payments because of a sharp decrease in income coincidental with a lay-off, or that the custodial parent now wishes to relocate to another state for a work opportunity.

Regardless of the situation, it may be possible in most cases to modify terms of an existing divorce decree if one or both parties now faces a "substantial change in circumstances" since the time the original order was enacted. That language is important, as it is the legal standard by which judges determine whether or not post-divorce modifications should be granted.

Procedural matters

If the parties can agree amongst themselves to modify their arrangements, then one party can simply submit proposed changes for court approval. Of course, this is best done after each has consulted his/her attorney and any new language has been thoroughly reviewed to ensure that it is legal, enforceable, not patently unfair to one party, and is in the best interests of the couple's children (if applicable). The judge will, of course, then make a decision whether or not to grant the request to modify.

It is important to note that, even if the parties have mutually agreed upon a change, if the court feels it is not in the best interests of the children involved, there is a chance it won't be granted. The court's overarching goal in family law matters is to do what is best for the children, even if the parents don't necessarily agree.

Of course, if the parties cannot agree upon modifications, then the matter must be decided by a Connecticut family court judge, typically one in the county in which the divorce decree was originally entered. Like any other contested family law matter - be it a divorce, child custody dispute, alimony contest or other issue - if a judge must make the determination on behalf of the parties (following multiple hearings and rounds of document submissions drawn out over a period of months), the matter will usually take longer to resolve and will typically result in higher attorney fees and court costs.

This is certainly not to say that there aren't times that a modification is warranted and worth fighting for. Regardless, if you have questions about modifying an existing divorce decree in Connecticut, speak with an experienced family law attorney like Nancy Noyes at the New Haven firm of Engelman, Noyes and Rubin, LLP.

Keywords: divorce, post-divorce modifications