Chandler modifications attorney
Helping people throughout the Phoenix Valley, including including Gilbert and Mesa, with post-decree modification and enforcement issues
Just as marriage does not always end with “till death do us part,” divorces and legal separations do not always end with the “final” divorce decree or other court order. The parties seldom ride off in opposite directions, never to be heard from again. Circumstances can and do change, and ongoing contact is necessary when children are involved. Such situations call for what is known in legal terms as a post-decree modification or enforcement.
Modification means changing the terms of the decree or other court order. Enforcement means forcing one or both parties to adhere to its terms. Usually, the two go hand in hand.
Because of the potential complexity, you should pursue matters such as these only with an experienced Chandler modifications attorney by your side.
When post-decree modification or enforcement might be necessary
Post-decree modification and enforcement matters typically arise when:
- One or both parties fail to do something they agreed to do or do not follow the court’s final orders in one or more respects.
- The parties themselves agree to an alternate arrangement or simply fall into a routine that differs from what is reflected in the decree.
- A significant change in circumstances has occurred, such as a parent moving out of state or getting a large increase or decrease in pay.
- Something crucial is missing from the decree.
A common scenario requiring post-decree enforcement is when one ex-spouse does not hand over specific items of personal property in a timely manner as the divorce decree requires. Or a party inexplicably makes no attempt to refinance the house, car, or boat, or does not retitle the property or loan solely into his or her name as the judge mandated. Or a parent ordered to make child support payments to the other parent does not fill out the paperwork required to start the wage garnishment.
Whether it is OK to do something other than what the court order says
Typically, you will not get in trouble with the court if both you and your spouse agree to do something that varies from one or more terms of the divorce decree, child custody support order, or other family court final order. This is because nobody is complaining to a judge. Often, formerly married parents decide on a different parenting-time schedule or even a different custody arrangement that works better for them than what the judge pronounced or they previously agreed to, whether in a courtroom hearing, or a mediation or conciliation court session.
No matter. The key is to make the terms of the latest court order reflect as closely as possible your actual conduct. This is important because, even though you and your ex may be on amicable terms now, you never know when things might change.
If they do change, your former spouse may stop abiding by your revised agreement or may even act as if he or she doesn’t remember agreeing to it. So it’s critical to get it in writing, signed and dated, and preferably notarized. Also, you should ask the court to amend or revise the order to better reflect reality.
If changing cirumstances make it harder for you to meet the terms of a divorce decree or other court order, don’t worry. It happens all the time. One of the spouses might get a promotion or demotion, changing the amount of his or her salary or hourly wage. One party might get a new job or lose one. A parent might move out of state.
Under Arizona law, any of these events would be cause for a modification of a decree or other court order as long as the changed circumstance is “substantial and continuing.” With child support, Arizona courts will consider modifying the order only if the amount paid would increase or decrease “significantly,” that is, by at least 15 percent if the change in financial conditions were taken into account.
Sometimes modification is necessary when there are one or more crucial items missing from a divorce decree. The most common example relates to overlooked 401(k) plans or other retirement benefits. It is easy for an unrepresented party to make a mistake and omit something this important. It even happens occasionally when attorneys are involved. Many divorcing couples neglect to get a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) drafted, submitted, and signed to address these funds, as required by law prior to payout. This doesn’t have to occur before the divorce is final, but too often former spouses forget about this important step until the employee ex-spouse reaches retirement and suffers a needless delay in receiving his or her hard-earned retirement funds because of a lingering QDRO issue.