Sunday, December 9, 2012
Is my divorce (or paternity) judgment final for child custody and child support?
In almost all court judgments, once the judgment is final it can't be changed. This rule does not apply to issues involving child welfare and support. If there is new conduct or events that affect the best interests of a child, the Court has the power to change the judgment. Provisions relating to child custody, visitation and support are almost always modifiable. If there is a material change in circumstances, then the parties may consider seeking a modification. Assuming that you prove the change in circumstances then the court must determine if the best interests of the child mandates a change in the judgment. In Massachusetts, a change of circumstances in child support may be the passage of three years since the last judgment of support entered.
While child issues can change, the court won't consider evidence that occurred prior to the entry of the earlier judgment. A modification is not an excuse to try the divorce again. There must be a material change of circumstances since the last judgment.
Until the Court changes the provisions of the earlier judgment, the parties must strictly follow the terms of the judgment. While the judgment may allow for the parties to change the terms of the judgment by agreement, such an agreement is not enforceable by a contempt proceeding unless the new terms were approved by a Judge. Massachusetts Courts have a simplified procedure for court approval of a modification by agreement of the parties. The parties don't have the power to change the amount of child support by agreement without Court approval.
If you are considering seeking a change in the child-related issues from a prior judgment, you should consult an experienced family law attorney who can help you understand if you can and should seek a modification of the judgment.