Most provisions of a divorce decree cannot be modified; however, either spouse may ask the court to modify orders pertaining to their children, in some situations.
In order to modify child support, visitation, or conservatorship/custody, the petitioner must prove to the court that a “material and substantial” change has occurred since the initial divorce decree. Following are some of the common reasons people modify their divorce decrees.
Visitation and conservatorship agreements are, to some extent, based on geography. A visitation agreement created when parents lived in homes 10 miles apart will need to be modified if one parent moves to another city or state. In such cases, some parents are able to work together to arrive at a new agreement and thus file an uncontested Order in Suit to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship. When parents don’t agree, they must file a contested suit, which takes much longer to settle.
If the parent with physical conservatorship is deployed on active military service, the other parent may petition the court for a temporary modification of custody (no permanent changes may be made while one parent is on active duty).
A parent who gives birth to or fathers a baby and is also paying child support to his or her ex-spouse may ask the court to reduce his or her support obligation. The court considers the cost of caring for the baby in determining a reasonable amount of child support for the existing child.
Other financial factors that may merit a change in child support include the conservator’s losing his or her job or suffering a disabling injury.
A visitation agreement based on both parents’ working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, would need to be modified if one parent were to begin a new job working nights or weekends.
Parents may prefer that their child attend a specific school, which may also merit a change in the child’s primary residence, either due to school district requirements or because of a parent’s proximity to the school.
A child’s best interests
The court will not modify an order unless it believes the requested change is in the child’s best interests. In cases where only one parent wants to modify visitation, conservatorship, or support, the court may hear testimony from teachers, family members, and others in order to determine what’s best for the child. And once a child reaches age 12, a judge will consult with the child in chambers to determine whether the child has a preference on where he or she wants to live.
Texas courts uphold the viewpoint that frequent changes in living arrangements or in time spent with parents is disruptive for children – that’s why courts require proof that a material and substantial change is the reason for a requested modification. When requesting a modification, parents can minimize stress for their children by working together on an arrangement, rather than having the court settle their disagreements.
If you have questions about how to modify your divorce decree, discuss it with one of the attorneys at the Austin, TX-based Evans Law Firm. We have years of experience helping families reach favorable agreements that offer the best outcome for children of divorce. Call today at 1-855-414-1012 or fill out this online contact form to find out how we can help you.