Go Through the Proper Legal Channels When Modifying an Order

Go Through the Proper Legal Channels When Modifying an OrderIn Tennessee, every final divorce decree should also include family law orders that set forth in writing the custody orders and parenting plans for each child, the amount of child support the non-residential parent is required to pay, and any alimony orders. Family law orders based on mediation, a collaborative divorce, or litigation should be in writing and made part of the final divorce decree.

The family law orders should have as much detail as possible so a judge will know what was decided if there is a dispute and so each spouse and parent understands precisely what their duties and obligations are. While the property division order is normally carried out shortly after the divorce is granted, orders for custody/visitation and child usually last much longer. Generally, child custody and support orders last until your child turns 18 or there is an agreement to pay for the child’s education beyond high school. Alimony orders generally last until a specific number of years have passed, the recipient spouse marries, or either spouse dies.

When should you consider a modification of a family law order?

There are some key balances to consider when seeking to modify a family law order.

1.    Your first priority is to protect yourself and your children.

Just because your spouse agrees to switch up the weekends he/she has physical custody of the children or agrees to pay for extra clothes for a child does not mean that those switched weekends or clothes payments will continue. The only agreements that count as far as the family court is concerned are those that are in writing.

If you want to change the schedule of visits, determine who pays for unplanned expenses for your child, or make other modifications, you should contact our experienced Franklin family lawyer. We may be able to negotiate an agreement with your ex-spouse or the other parent.  We will then place that agreement in writing, have you and your ex-spouse/parent sign the agreement, and request that the family judge make the agreement part of a new family court order. If negotiations fail, we assert your rights in court before a family law judge.

2.    The material change in circumstances requirement for child custody and child support orders.

Franklin County family court judges will consider changes to custody orders and child support orders only when there is a substantial change in circumstances of either spouse, parent, or child. Family judges do want parents to be able to communicate with each other. They don’t want former spouses and parents running into court when your ex is five minutes late exchanging your child on rare occasions. If the other parent is later every time there is an exchange, never informs you of the delay, and the delays grow in time, then a family judge will be more inclined to listen to your concerns.

Family judges also will consider major changes in the income of either parent when adjusting a child support order. If the parent paying child support receives a $5,000-a-year raise, then some of that raise should definitely be used to provide their child with a better life. If the parent paying child support receives a $500 raise, then the judge will likely deny the modification request and hope the parent uses some of that $500 for their children.

3.    The material change in circumstances requirement for spousal maintenance orders.

Many spousal maintenance orders are fairly short. Long-term orders are generally reserved for spouses who are disabled, older, or who are clearly unable to earn a living. Spousal orders can be modified if there is a substantial change in circumstances of either former spouse.

4.    One of you is relocating.

Some of the most contested modification requests involve a parent who wants to change a child custody or a child visitation order because one parent wants to move to a new state or a distant location in Tennessee. This is one area where you absolutely need to obtain a court order, whether you are the spouse who is moving or the spouse who is staying in Franklin.

You have a right to know your child is secure. If the other spouse/parent is moving, you have the right to know why the parent is moving, where the parent will be living, and who else will live in the household. Legitimate reasons for moving are a new job or being remarried. Other reasons may raise doubts.

You need to know how your child will be transported between the parents and who will pay for the transport. You need to know how to communicate with the spouse/parent who is moving. You need to know where your child will attend school and many other educational and social issues.

Even if your ex-spouse’s move seems like it would be a good experience for your child, you absolutely need a court order that is enforceable both in Tennessee and the state where the other parent will now be living. If your former spouse/the other parent is not taking care of your child, is not returning your child, or is not caring for your child in any other way, you need proper family law orders in both states to ensure that your child is protected.

What are the common grounds for seeking a modification of a family court order?

Generally, family law orders can be modified or terminated as follows:

  • Child custody and visitation orders. A common time to modify a child custody and visitation order is when your child starts school. Until the child starts school, the toddler normally stays at home with some exceptions for preschool and playdates. When the child starts school, both parents need to ensure the child gets to and from school and school activities safely.

Common reasons for seeking a modification after a child starts school are: the child develops special needs, a parent moves, a parent begins a new serious relationship, or a parent’s job schedule changes which affects when the child can be picked up or dropped off.

A parent who seeks to modify an existing parenting plan must file a petition and a new proposed plan with the family court. Agreements are preferred but the judge will hear modification disputes when necessary.

  • Child support orders. Child support orders are normally modifiable if the income of either parent changes significantly – for better or worse. The order may also change to include health insurance for the child and address any developmental or special needs of the child.

Child custody and child support orders normally end when the child turns 18. Some exceptions may apply.

  • Spousal maintenance orders. Either spouse may request a spousal support order if the ability of the payor spouse to pay alimony changes or if the ability of the payee spouse to earn a living changes. Income changes and health changes are common reasons to seek a modification. Remarriage of the payee spouse or the death of either spouse is grounds for termination of a spousal maintenance order.

Spouses and parents should consult with the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates after a divorce to protect their own interests and the health and happiness of their children. Our seasoned team in Franklin, Brentwood, and Columbia regularly seeks modifications of family law orders. We’ll explain whether you have grounds to file a modification and then help you obtain a new court order. To discuss any family law concern, call us today or use our convenient contact form to schedule a free consultation.