An interesting article from Esther Donald at Dallas-based family law firm GoransonBain caught our attention recently. Titled, “The Final Divorce Decree Is Not Etched In Stone,” it looked at what happens when divorced couples face unexpected situations that make it difficult if not impossible to carry out what the divorce decree says they should do.
The most obvious example is when a non-custodial parent endures some sort of financial hardship and is unable to pay child support, but that’s far from the only change in parents’ or children’s lives that might necessitate a change. Perhaps the non-custodial parent gets a better-paying job or a promotion (and a significant salary increase) that justifies a higher child support payment. One of the parents might get a job in a different part of the state or different part of the country, which would impact parenting time dramatically. Perhaps a child’s after-curricular activities or school schedule make a different parenting plan best.
The main point she makes in the article is that some couples try to circumvent the divorce decree by taking matters into their own hands. Sometimes, it’s a friendly agreement that both parties make and stick with. Sometimes, less happily, it’s one parent trying to enforce the decree by “punishing” the other parent; for example, a custodial parent who prevents the non-custodial parent parenting time in response to a late child support payment.
Couples on good terms can generally make short-term changes without affecting the co-parenting relationship — especially if changes are clearly communicated via email, so both parties have a written record they can refer back to should there be confusion.
However, if there’s any changes that need to be made long-term, or if there are serious matters involving child support or parenting time, it’s best to involve family lawyers who can help the couple come to agreement on necessary changes, and modify the decree accordingly. If you and your ex divorced collaboratively, those lawyers are probably best positioned to help you modify your decree, being familiar with how you arrived at the settlement and what issues you encountered along the way. While negotiating post-divorce modifications present their own complications, collaboratively-trained lawyers have skills that can come in handy for those particular negotiations.