Post-Decree Modifications

A divorce is finalized in Colorado once the court enters a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. As part of finalizing the divorce, the Court will also enter orders regarding issues that need to be addressed in any divorce action, such as property division and spousal maintenance (alimony). If there are minor children of the marriage, then the court will also enter orders pertaining to things like child support, custody, parental decision-making responsibilities, and parenting time.  Combined, all these orders from the Court are known as the Permanent Orders in a divorce case.

While the Permanent Orders regarding all these matters may have been appropriate at the time the divorce was finalized, situations can change drastically in all sorts of unpredictable ways. Therefore, sometimes an order which may have been appropriate when the Court entered it may need to be modified down the line. Luckily, Colorado law provides us with mechanisms for modifying court orders after a divorce is finalized, also known as “post decree modifications”. Essentially, how this works is that a party who is requesting modification of the Permanent Orders will file a motion with the court requesting such modification. The chances of the requested modification being granted will depend on both the facts of the case and the applicable law.

Colorado Revised Statutes section 14-10-122 addresses modification and termination of spousal maintenance, child support, and property division. As for maintenance, the statute provides that a schedule of maintenance payments can be modified only as to payments accruing after the filing of a motion to modify, and only upon a showing of changed circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms unfair. This is a high bar to meet, and Courts are normally reluctant to modify spousal maintenance. However, that certainly does not mean that they will always refuse to grant a modification, as it may very well be appropriate based on the facts of the case.  (Maintenance in many cases in settled matters can be contractual and non-modifiable as well.)

Like maintenance, child support is governed by C.R.S. section 14-10-122, and the schedule of child support payments may only be modified as to payments that are due after the filing of a motion to modify child support in a case. For a Court to grant a motion to modify child support, there must be a showing of changed circumstances that are substantial and continuing. A Court can also modify the provisions of any decree respecting child support on the ground that the current order does not contain a provision regarding medical support, such as insurance coverage, payment for medical insurance deductibles and copayments, or unreimbursed medical expenses. Children can and do change drastically from the time the original child support obligations are set forth through the time they become legal adults. Courts understand this and apply the law accordingly.

The provisions as to property disposition set forth at the time of the decree may not be revoked or modified unless the Court finds the existence of conditions that justify the reopening of a judgment. An example of this might be if the Court was to find that one of the parties did not disclose all their financial assets in accordance with the law during a divorce proceeding.

Oftentimes, a parenting plan that was entered by the Court at the time of the divorce decree, while appropriate at the time, will need to be adjusted at the children grow and the circumstances of the parties and children change. Both parties may have been in complete agreement with the plan at the time it was approved by the Court, but due to unforeseen circumstances now wish for, or need for, the plan to change. This is very common. Maybe the work schedules of the parties have changed. Maybe the children have different needs than they previously had. Maybe one party would like to relocate with the children. Maybe circumstances are such that one parent can no longer operate in the role of primary custodian of the children. Maybe the parties are incapable of making decisions together about things like the children’s schooling or medical care. As you can see, there are a myriad of reasons why modification of a parenting plan might be appropriate.

Modification of parenting time is governed by Colorado Revised Statutes section 14-10-129, which states that the Court may make or modify an order granting or denying parenting time rights whenever such order or modification would serve the best interests of the child. However, the statute also states that the Court shall not restrict a parent’s parenting time rights unless it finds that the parenting time would endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development. This part of the statute limiting a Court’s ability to restrict parenting time does not apply in cases in which one parent is seeking to relocate the children.

As far as custody and decision-making responsibility go, they are governed by C.R.S. section 14-10-131. For a Court to grant a motion requesting a modification of custody or decision-making responsibility, it must find that a change has occurred in the circumstances of the child or the child’s custodian and that the modification is necessary to serve the best interests of the child.

In short, after a divorce or child custody case is finalized and a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage is entered by the Court, life will go on. As time goes by and circumstances for the parties and/or their children change, the Court’s orders governing the parties and their parenting of the kids may need to change as well. There is no shortage of reasons for these potential modifications to be either necessary, appropriate, or both.

If you believe that the circumstances facing either you or your children may warrant the modification of a previous Court order, contact Town & Town LLC, The Attorneys of Highlands Ranch. We can help you decide if going down this path make sense for you.

Conversely, if another party in your case is requesting a modification from the court that you are not in agreement with, we are happy to assist you with that as well. Contact us for a free consultation. We are here to help.