What is a Post-Judgment Modification?
A post-judgment modification is a court-approved revision to an existing court order for issues such as child support, child custody, and spousal support. Modifications may be requested by a party based on a significant change in circumstances, when information not previously disclosed comes to light, or when one party fails to uphold the terms of an existing decree.
The child custody/child support order specifies legal and physical custody of children, designating one parent as the custodial parent. The noncustodial parent typically pays child support. The decree also includes a visitation schedule.
A spousal support order — also referred to as “alimony” — requires one party to provide financial support to the other party on a temporary or long-term basis, depending on the circumstances. Temporary support, for example, may be awarded to give the recipient time to become financially self-sufficient following a divorce.
Contempt is another basis for requesting a post-decree modification. If a party willfully fails to abide by the court’s decree, the other party may ask the court for a contempt hearing on the matter. If, after both sides present evidence, the court does find a party in contempt of the existing order, it may issue a modified order with new terms, an order to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees, add penalties for unpaid support, or even order jail time.
Often, a modification is requested not because of something one party did not do, but what they did. For example, if one party failed to disclose assets in the divorce proceeding, the other party may request a modification of a decree based on the value of the undisclosed assets.
Child Custody/Support Modifications
A parent may request a review and modification to a child custody or support agreement if it has been in excess of three years since the last review, or if there is a significant change in circumstances. Those circumstances would include a material change in gross income of 20% or $100 per month which would alter the child support calculation.
Other changing circumstances might include the emancipation of a child, the incarceration of the noncustodial parent, a parent’s relocation, or a child’s educational needs or need for medical treatment.
As was the case when the court first entered a child custody and support order, the court will act in the best interest of the child, not the best interest of the parents.
Spousal Support Modifications
The primary basis for awarding or modifying spousal support is the need of one party for the support and the ability of the other party to pay it. Should either of those circumstances change significantly during the course of the decree, a party may request a modification. A modification may be warranted if, for example, one of the party’s income increases or decreases significantly, or if the receiving party remarries or cohabitates with someone else.
Any modification to a court judgment must be approved by the court. The party requesting the modification bears the burden of proof. The party requesting a post-judgment modification must petition the court to take up the matter, present evidence relevant to the basis for the modification, and abide by the court’s decision.
How an Attorney Can Help
Arkansas courts do not issue any type of decree lightly. They consider all information, documentation, and evidence carefully before issuing a divorce decree or child custody and support order. Changing the terms of those judgments requires not only a significant change in circumstances but compelling evidence for the change. Anyone seeking a modification should have an experienced family law attorney who can help them present their case and be a strong advocate for them in court.