If there has been a major change in your life you may be entitled to receive a change in your Court Orders and Judgments. In the same way that Collaborative Law and Mediation can help parties settle their divorce case inexpensively and amicably, collaborative law and mediation can also help you agree to changes that need to be made to your old agreements to deal with new circumstances. Whether you reach an agreement or go to court to request changes, the following information should help you better understand what you need to know about modifying court orders or judgments. If you would like more information please do not hesitate to call us at 508.655.5980 or e-mail us.
SAME-SEX DIVORCE TIP: A few states that do not permit same-sex marriages, most vocally Texas, have refused to recognize same-sex divorce as well. In opposite-sex marriages, marriages from one state are recognized by all of the other states. However, the federal law DOMA (the "Defense of Marriage Act") states that no state is required to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Therefore states that don't allow same-sex marriages can choose to not recognize same-sex marriages from other states as valid marriages. This means that they may also refuse to enforce same-sex Divorce Judgments against their state residents. Court Orders which may otherwise be enforceable across state lines, may lose their effect if your ex-spouse moves to one of these uncooperative states. Click here for more information about gay & lesbian divorce in Massachusetts.
Same-Sex Massachusetts Divorce Website
A Complaint for Modification is the action by which you can request that the Court make a change to the past Court Judgments. If the Orders that you want changed are only Temporary Orders then you must request a change by Motion. A Complaint for Modification is the beginning of a new action and should only be used to change permanent orders which are called Judgments. To succeed on a Complaint for Modification you must prove two things: first you must prove that there has been a "significant material change in circumstances;" and second you must prove that the change in circumstances warrants a change in the Order. The standards for succeeding on a Complaint for Modification are explained at further length below.
A "significant material change in circumstances" is simply explained as a change in your life that is big enough to have an effect on the factors that related to the original Order of the Court. For example, if the Order that you want to change is an alimony order, then you must demonstrate that there has been a change to the factors that affect an alimony determination, such as the income of the parties or the expenses of the parties. In addition, you must demonstrate that that change is significant. In alimony cases a good rule of thumb for determining significance is whether or not the change in circumstances would result in a 20% change in the alimony order. A 2013 SJC decision in Massachusetts, Morales v. Morales SJC 11104, differentiates this standard for Child Support. In child support modification cases, the SJC has indicated that "modification is presumptively required whenever there is an inconsistency between the amount of child support that is to be paid under the existing support order and the amount that would be paid under the Guidelines." To calculate what would be paid under the Guidelines visit our Child Support Calculator.
Upon the filing of a Complaint for Modification the Court will issue a Tracking Order. The Tracking Order tells you who your Judge will be for the entire length of your case, and designates a timeline for the completion of your case, currently eight (8) months. This means that the goal of the Court is to hold a trial on your case within eight months if you are unable to settle your case before that. The Court will typically not allow a change prior to settlement or a trial unless there is an emergency that warrants a change. If you request an immediate change via Motion you should also file an Affidavit of Emergency to inform the Court why an immediate change is necessary. If you are not sure how to decide whether your circumstances warrant an emergency order, you should consult with an attorney.