The process of getting a divorce is rife with challenges. Even if you do everything that is required to make informed decisions, when it comes down to it, you are ultimately making your best guess about what will be best for you and your children in the future.
So, if you find yourself wanting to make changes to the terms of your divorce, this is understandable. Circumstances change, and when they do, terms to which you agreed ten, five, or even two years ago might not make sense any more. In Washington, the courts recognize that this will inevitably be the case, and there are various circumstances under which it is possible to revise the terms of your divorce.
Revising the Terms of Your Divorce: Talking to Your Former Spouse
When seeking to revise the terms of your divorce, your first option is to talk to your former spouse. If you and your former spouse can agree on a modification, this will be the quickest and most cost-effective way to make a change. If you are on speaking terms, you can bring it up yourself. If you aren’t, you can go through your attorney.
In either scenario, if you want a modification, there is a reasonably good chance that your former spouse wants one as well – whether or not he or she has thought about it in those terms. As a result, before you make your request, it will likely be a good idea to think about any ways in which you may need to be willing to compromise as well.
Revising the Terms of Your Divorce: Filing a Petition for Modification in Court
If you and your former spouse cannot come to terms, or if talking productively with your former spouse simply is not an option, then you will need to file a petition for modification in court. The Washington courts will grant modifications to parenting plans and custody, child support, and alimony orders under varying conditions. In order to make sure that (i) your circumstances justify a petition for modification, and (ii) you present the facts in such a way as to make a convincing case for revising the terms of your divorce, you will want to work with an experienced family law attorney.
Revising the Terms of Your Parenting Plan or Custody Order
As you will see below, a key aspect of all divorce modification requests is that they must be supported by a “material” change in circumstances. In other words, if you are simply having second thoughts or are just ready for a change, this generally is not going to be enough reason to go to court.
With regard to parenting plans and child custody orders, material changes in circumstances can include things like:
- One parent getting a new job out of state;
- One parent being deployed on active duty; and
- One parent repeatedly failing to adhere to the parties’ existing parenting plan or custody-and-visitation schedule.
Additionally, in post-divorce child custody matters, the focus remains on protecting the best interests of the children involved. In other words, not only do you need to have evidence of a material change in circumstances, but you must also be able to show that your requested modification serves your children’s best interests as well.
Revising the Terms of Your Child Support Order
Modifying child support in Washington also requires evidence of a material change in circumstances. Since most child support calculations are based on statutory guidelines, these modification requests tend to be more straightforward than requests to modify child custody. And as we previously discussed, child support modifications can often be accomplished with a single hearing. Examples of situations in which it is possible to successfully petition for a child support modification in Washington include:
- It has been more than a year since your child support order was signed and you are now facing a severe economic hardship;
- It has been more than two years since your child support order was signed and your income or your former spouse’s income has materially changed; and
- Your child-related expenses (e.g., the amount you pay for childcare services or medical insurance) have increased since the date of your divorce.
Revising the Terms of Your Alimony Order
With regard to alimony, the material change in circumstances required to support a petition for modification can either impact (i) the payor’s continued ability to pay, or (ii) the recipient’s financial need. For example, the payor losing his or her job would generally support a petition for modification of alimony, as would the recipient’s cohabitation with a high-earning partner or spouse.
However, in Washington, a former spouse’s cohabitation does not automatically justify modification or termination of alimony. As we alluded to in the previous paragraph, even in this scenario, evidence of a material change in financial circumstances is still required.
What about Revising the Terms of Our Property Division?
So, that takes care of child-related issues and alimony. Now, what about property division?
Property division is unique in that the circumstances that can justify a request for revision are extremely limited. Generally speaking, the Washington courts will not revisit former spouses’ distribution of their marital assets during their divorce. And for tax purposes, it may not be possible to simply “undo” a transfer.
That said, if you have questions about something to do with the division of your marital assets, you should not write off the possibility of seeking a modification – at least not until you speak with an attorney. For example, if you and your spouse incorrectly identified a significant asset as “marital” rather than “separate” property, it may be to correct this mistake through formal legal means.
Speak with a Trusted Attorney in Confidence
If you would like to speak with an attorney about revising the terms of your divorce, please feel free to get in touch. To request a confidential consultation at our offices in Tacoma, give us a call or tell us about your situation online today.