Because a court order with provisions such as alimony, child custody, visitation or support extends for years after the parties receive a final judgment of divorce, it would be unjust to allow the obligations pursuant to such orders to remain unchangeable. As such these provisions are normally modifiable if a party can establish that there has been a change of circumstances or proper cause.
Modifying Support Obligations
For example, an order to pay spousal support may have been established because one spouse was unemployed throughout the marriage and had no marketable skills with which he or she could use to find gainful employment and financially support themselves. However, if said spouse obtains employment, attains a college degree, or even won the lottery after the court issued its final divorce decree, then the spouse owing spousal support should not be obligated to continue paying them spousal support. Likewise, if the payer’s income changes he or she can normally seek relief from the support obligations.
Courts have changed support orders pursuant to these changes in circumstances:
- Cohabitation with a financially supportive partner
- Death of either spouse
- Remarriage to a financially supportive spouse
- Retirement of the spouse
- Unanticipated medical conditions
- A change in overnight parenting time
Proper Cause and Change in Circumstances in Custody and Parenting Time
In a 2003 case called Vodvarka v. Grasmeyer, the Michigan Court of Appeals defined “proper cause” as “one or more grounds that have or could have a significant effect on the child’s life to the extent that a reevaluation of the child’s custodial situation should be undertaken.” The cause must relate to the statutory factors a court must assess when determining the child’s best interests.
Courts discourage parties from repeatedly coming back to court trying to change provisions involving children and, as a result, a legal threshold must be met before changes can be made.
This means that custody, parenting time, schools, etc. cannot be modified just because a parent wants to modify them. Rather, there must be something new happening in the life of the child that warrants a re-evaluation and necessitates a modification. Changing custody requires a higher burden of proof and therefore it is crucial that a motion to do so be properly drafted and supported with law and facts. While parenting time is easier to modify, there is still a requirement to provide a factual or legal basis to make the change. The last thing a father wants to do is bring unfounded or improperly drafted motions before the court which are summarily denied. This could make it more difficult to seek a modification down the road even when circumstances may justify such a change.
Getting Proper Advice from an Expert is Key for Modifications
As with any issue of family law, getting advice from an expert prior to taking action is crucial. The lawyer you contact will review the last court order entered in your matter and determine which provisions can be modified. A discussion should then be held on what circumstances have changed and what information should be gathered and prepared to support your request. For support, your lawyer can run various support scenarios using family law support software to give you make sure you are entitled to a modification. The last thing you want to do is file a motion to have support lowered only to have it increased.
Contact American Divorce Association for Men
If you are a husband or father who is facing difficult divorce issues, you can benefit from assistance from the professional services of the American Divorce Association for Men (ADAM). At ADAM, we are dedicated to making sure husbands and fathers are protected against systemic bias in the family court system.
Call us at or contact us online to speak with a professional advocate about your case today.