In many divorce cases, the goal of the law is to get the divorcing parties to reach an agreement on critical legal issues such as the distribution of marital assets and property, the payment of spousal support, the determination of child custody—if applicable—and the financial support of the minor child.
In cases where the parties cannot reach an agreement about such issues, they must take their conflict to the court where a final judgment will be rendered, involving legally-binding court orders regarding those issues.
When there has been a significant change in circumstances since the court rendered its final judgment in a divorce case, the parties can argue that such changed circumstances justify changing the terms of the court’s orders.
The Changed Circumstances Standard
The change in circumstances necessary to justify modification must relate to the circumstances relevant to the court’s decision in rendering its order. For example, if the court ordered the parties to share custody of the minor child assuming that both parents lived a reasonable distance from each other, the fact that one or both parents have since decided to relocate to a different state may justify the court in changing the terms of its initial child custody order.
However, when the parties resolve an issue through a private settlement agreement, the court takes the terms of that agreement and ratifies them as part of its final judgment and associated court orders. When it comes to divorce settlements, how can the parties go about modifying its terms?
In general, the changed circumstances standard still applies even in cases where the parties reached an agreement about the terms of their divorce in a settlement agreement. Since the court most likely incorporated the terms of the settlement in its final judgment and orders, the party requesting the modification has the job of demonstrating that a change in circumstances relates to what the parties considered when they formed their initial agreement.
Demonstrating Changed Circumstances in Private Settlements
Proving a change in circumstances can be difficult in cases involving private settlement because the parties might be inclined to keep the details surrounding their divorce outside the public light. The parties in a divorce settlement might want to specify as many details as they feel comfortable disclosing in the event that one of them might want to modify the terms of their divorce upon some future change in circumstances.
However, the advantage of settling a divorce through private agreement gives the parties broader authority to dictate the terms of future modifications. As a result, the parties can include terms and conditions related to future modification issues.
The parties can think forward when negotiating the terms of their divorce settlement and specify what circumstances would justify modifying the agreement’s initial terms. For example, a divorce settlement can include language such as “The parties agree that relocation of either party to a place more than sixty miles from their current address at the time they signed this agreement will constitute a change in circumstances entitling either party to modify the terms and conditions provided under ‘Article 3: Custody.’”
As you can see, a good divorce settlement resolves issues between the parties without the need for court intervention. However, a great divorce settlement plans for future contingencies and prepares both parties for the possibility that a change in circumstances will occur in the future and the consequences of those circumstances on their respective rights and responsibilities.
For More Information About Divorce Settlements, Call DiPietro Law Group, PLLC Today
Are you looking for a professional family law attorney with experience in divorce settlements? If so, the legal team at DiPietro Law Group, PLLC is here to help. We have years of combined legal experience working with various family law cases, including the modification of divorce orders and settlement agreements. With offices in Maryland and Virginia, you can benefit from the comprehensive legal services of the attorneys from DiPietro Law Group, PLLC.
Call us at (888) 530-4374 or contact our office online to arrange for an initial consultation discussing your legal rights and responsibilities today.