When a divorce is finalized, many legal orders may go into place. Depending on your situation, the final judgment for your dissolution of marriage may include spousal support and child support orders, child custody orders, and many other family matters. A significant aspect of the dissolution process is determining your financial and familial situation to ensure these orders are fair and just.
However, change is inevitable. Orders that were reasonable at the time of your dissolution may become serious burdens later. You shouldn’t be forced to abide by these orders if they no longer reflect your financial situation. That’s why post-judgment modifications exist.
With a post-judgment modification, you can request that your final judgment is adjusted to meet your current circumstances. Keep reading to learn how these modifications work, whether you are eligible, and how to request a modification after life changes.
What Is a Post-Judgment Modification?
A post-judgment modification is a court-ordered change to the final judgment of your dissolution of marriage. The modification can address any ongoing element of that judgment, including spousal support, child support, and custody.
The purpose of these modifications is to ensure that a one-time order does not burden someone if their life circumstances change. For example, spousal support orders are calculated using both spouses’ income and earning potential. If you were ordered to pay support to your ex-spouse based on the income of a job you have since lost, you may no longer be able to afford the amount you are required to pay. In that case, you could request a modification to reflect your new income.
Divorce judgments are intended to be equitable. By permitting modifications due to significant changes in your circumstances, Florida laws prevent divorces from becoming an undue burden on your life and finances.
When Can You Pursue a Post-Judgment Modification?
There are many reasons why you might choose to pursue a post-judgment modification. In Florida, the eligibility requirements for these changes are reasonably straightforward. You need to prove that you or your ex-spouse have experienced a significant, permanent life change that makes the terms of the original ruling unfair. Common reasons for modifications include:
- Significant changes in income, such as losing or getting a job
- New disabilities that render your ex-spouse unable to care for your children or prevent you from making spousal support payments
- Your ex-spouse’s failure to follow the original judgment, including failing to appear for custody exchanges or refusing to pay child support
- Unfit parenting, such as your ex-spouse putting your children in dangerous situations or abusing them
In each of these situations, the original judgment was no longer working the way it was intended. If that judgment puts your children at risk or causes you in financial hardship, it may be changed. Similarly, if your ex-spouse refuses to abide by the ruling, it may be changed in your favor to address their misconduct and they could face enforcement actions and penalties.
How to Request a Post-Judgment Modification
If you believe your divorce judgment should be modified, you can request the change by filing a petition in the family court with jurisdiction over your case. In your petition, you will need to demonstrate that you or your ex-spouse experienced a life change that meets three basic criteria:
- Materiality: The change in circumstances must create a need for a material, tangible change to the judgment. For example, a change in income may be addressed by increasing or decreasing spousal support by a specific dollar amount.
- Substantiality: The change must substantially affect your life or that of your spouse. Receiving a one-time bonus from your employer is unlikely to be considered a substantial change, but losing your job would. Similarly, getting the flu would not be a substantial change to your health, but losing your sight would substantially affect your ability to care for your children.
- Unexpectedness: Judgments are supposed to take into account expected future changes to your circumstances. For instance, the judge should be made aware of considerations like anticipated future promotions, job changes, or health events like surgeries to address them in the final dissolution of marriage judgment. Modifications are permitted for unexpected changes, since by definition they could not be addressed in the original orders.