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Can You Modify a Divorce Decree in North Carolina?

Things change after divorce, and sometimes the original terms of a divorce decree are no longer practical or appropriate. As children get older and the parents move on with their lives, you might want to file for a modification of the divorce judgment or parenting plan.

North Carolina family law attorneys can handle the modification action and advocate on your behalf. Here are a few things you might want to know about modifying a divorce decree in North Carolina.

Modifications Need to Go Through Court

When things are amicable, the former spouses might want to save themselves money and time by making informal verbal agreements among themselves when they want to make changes to the terms of the divorce decree. There is an inherent danger in handling the situation that way. Your ex might take you back to court to enforce the original terms of the divorce.

You could end up having to pay your former spouse’s legal fees plus your own, as well as any sanctions the court might impose for having violated the terms of the divorce judgment. The safest approach is to continue to follow the original court-ordered terms until the judge signs a new order modifying the terms of the decree. If you do a consent modification, you will save money on legal fees and get a result sooner than with a contested request for modification.

You Need to Prove a Substantial and Material Change in Circumstances

Judges do not want people to spend the rest of their lives running back to court every time one of the parties gets a three percent salary increase. You should reserve modification requests for things that constitute a “big deal,” which is called a substantial and material change in circumstances. 

Here are some examples of things that a judge might consider sufficient grounds to grant a motion to modify a divorce decree:

  • A parent loses their job involuntarily. Voluntarily quitting one’s employment could backfire because the court can impute income to you; in other words, treat you as if you still made that amount of money for purposes of child support and alimony (spousal support) obligations.
  • A parent wants or needs to relocate, with or without the children. In either situation, there will likely be adjustments needed to the parenting schedule, child support, and transportation expenses.
  • One parent’s income significantly increased. The spouse that you helped to support through medical school graduated and is now making much more money. Child and spousal support could increase.
  • One parent’s health deteriorated. For example, if a parent got diagnosed with late-stage cancer and was no longer able to work, they will need to modify several aspects of the original decree. Child and spousal support might require new arrangements as well as child custody and visitation schedules. 
  • A former spouse receiving alimony remarries or cohabits with a romantic partner.

These are but a few of the many circumstances that might justify a change in the original terms of the divorce. The terms of the original decree will impact the judge’s decision on the motion to modify.

North Carolina family law attorneys can provide guidance and answer your questions about modification of divorce decrees.  Contact our office today for a free consultation.