A divorce decree is often the result of long negotiations and difficult decisions. It is an important document that governs the financial and personal terms of a divorce. The terms of the divorce decree may be in effect for a long time, particularly if there were children of the marriage and, accordingly, many courts order terms such as child custody, child support, and alimony may need to be modified at a future date.
If the modifications need to be made in the same state where the divorce occurred, then the procedure is relatively simple but what happens when the parties need to modify an out of state divorce decree? Which court has jurisdiction over the modifications?
Many people get divorced in one state and then circumstances lead at least one of the ex-spouses and the children to move to another state. When this happens, people wonder what to do if they need to modify the child custody provisions of the divorce decree.
In an effort to provide unity among the states and to clarify this issue, almost every state has passed the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act gives jurisdiction over child custody issues to the state in which the child resides.
The Act defines the state in which the child resides as the state where the child has been living with a parent for at least six consecutive months prior to the commencement of the proceeding. If a modification needs to be made before the child has lived in a state for six consecutive months then a court with a significant connection to the child should have jurisdiction. In emergency situations, where abandonment or abuse may have occurred, any state where the child is physically located can have jurisdiction to handle that emergency.
Other common divorce decree modifications include child visitation, child support, and alimony provisions of the divorce decree. Most states allow the court which granted the divorce to retain jurisdiction over these matters as long as one of the parties to the divorce decree is still living within the jurisdiction of the court. The physical residence of the child and other spouse is irrelevant.
Jurisdiction over child support modification issues is determined by the nationwide Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act gives the court which issued the original child support order continuing exclusive jurisdiction over child support matters as long as at least one of the parties continues to live in that state or all of the parties agree to the continuing exclusive jurisdiction of the court. All of the parties may agree to move jurisdiction to another state's court system and file that agreement with the court that originally issued the child support order.
A divorce decree is intended to be a long-term court order expressing agreement between ex-spouses. However, sometimes circumstances change, particularly if the ex-spouses share children, and a modification of the divorce decree is necessary. In those instances, it is important to bring the modification request before the court with proper jurisdiction to hear the matter.
Jurisdiction, however, is not the only issue. In order to succeed in changing certain divorce decree provisions like child custody, visitation, child support and spousal support orders, you must demonstrate a substantial change in your circumstances. Judges may consider moving to a new state, getting a different job at a higher or lower salary, or remarriage as a substantial change requiring a modification of your divorce settlement or the original order issued by the family court in your case.
Family law matters and the divorce process can be complicated. And when it comes to changing divorce decrees, especially those issued in different states, it may help to get legal advice from a qualified divorce attorney. Contact one near you for legal help with your divorce case.