Most divorces end either by settlement or trial and the parties are able to go their separate ways. However, if the divorce involves alimony or there are minor children, the parties may be tethered to one another for a much longer period of time. The same is true if there are other types of continuing obligations, under the settlement agreement or Judgment of Absolute Divorce, such as use and possession of the family home for a period time. With these types of obligations, there is a greater likelihood that future modifications to the original agreement or divorce judgment will be needed.
Issues relating to alimony, custody, and child support may, under certain circumstances, be subject to modification. For instance, changes in an ex-spouse’s life, such as a lost job, disability, or job relocation, may require amendments to the legal documents concerning alimony, custody, or child support. Often, a custody schedule entered in a divorce when a child is very young will need to be modified in later years to better address the child’s different needs.
And sometimes, the settlement agreement or the court order may not adequately address a future situation that arises, thereby justifying the need to modify the settlement agreement or court order.
Our family law attorneys address post-divorce modifications, first and foremost, in a practical manner seeking the most cost-effective way to resolve the problem. We, at Brown, Goldstein & Levy, will help the client determine whether a modification is needed and permissible under Maryland law. If a modification is appropriate, we work with our client to determine the best approach to resolve the issue after fully explaining the various options available.
Under What Circumstances Can Alimony Be Modified After a Divorce?
After a divorce, alimony can only be modified in a limited number of circumstances. If the divorcing parties waived their right to alimony as part of written settlement agreement or at trial, under Maryland law that waiver cannot be modified under any circumstances.
If the trial court determined that a party was not entitled to alimony, that decision is not subject to modification absent an appeal or a request for reconsideration immediately following the trial. There must be a sufficient legal and factual basis for a court to reverse a decision on alimony.
If the divorcing parties addressed the issue of alimony in their marital settlement agreement or a prenuptial agreement, the language of those contracts will determine whether the alimony terms were modifiable.
Our divorce attorneys at Brown, Goldstein & Levy can review the prenuptial agreement, marital settlement agreement, or court order to determine whether the alimony provision is suitable for modification under Maryland law.
Under What Circumstances Can Custody or Visitation Be Modified?
A decision regarding custody or visitation can be modified by the court (1) if there has been a material change since the custody order or custody agreement was entered; and (2) modification is in the best interests of the child. A “material” change is one where a change in conditions has occurred that affects the welfare of the child, not the parent. If the court finds a material change has occurred, it will then determine whether a modification is in the best interests of the child after considering a variety of factors.
The law in Maryland makes it clear that custody should not be changed unless there is a compelling reason to do so. Stability, not change, is favored.
Modifications to custody and visitation, however, do occur. Examples of material changes in circumstances include:
- The relocation of a parent for a new job or marriage;
- A change in a parent’s work schedule no longer allows him or her to personally care for the child when the other parent is available;
- A parent’s substance abuse or mental health issues interfere with the parent’s ability to properly care for the child;
- Domestic violence in a parent’s home;
- The original custody access schedule no longer is suitable for the child because of the child’s age or school/activities schedule.
Often, changes to custody and visitation can be best resolved without court intervention. The family law attorneys at Brown, Goldstein & Levy will assist the client in determining whether court intervention is necessary to address a parent’s request for modification.
Under What Circumstances Can Child Support Be Modified?
Absent a written agreement to the contrary, a child support order can be modified to increase or decrease the child support payments when there has been a material change in circumstances. A material change exists when there has been a significant change in the child’s needs or a change in a parent’s resources.
Many parents believe that they can modify a child support order by informally agreeing to a new child support amount without amending the child support order that is in place. This often happens when one of the parents has a change in income or when the child support order is no longer applicable to a child who is 18, but other siblings are still minors. These informal agreements are not enforceable and can lead to problems in the future. All modifications to a child support order should be submitted to the court so that a new court order reflecting the change can be entered.
The family law attorneys at Brown, Goldstein & Levy are here to help you with your child support modification. We will assist you in determining whether a modification is appropriate and if so, the amount of the new child support payment.
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Dana McKee guest speaker for the University of Baltimore’s Family Law Clinic Seminar
Brown, Goldstein & Levy Ranked in 2021 “Best Law Firms,” Including Tier 1 Rankings in 11 Practice Areas in the Baltimore Region
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