The law understands that circumstances change -- people may be fired, hired, remarried, relocated or subjected to other drastic life and financial changes. Children's needs often evolve as they grow. And sometimes, people agree to arrangements they don't understand or felt forced to accept, and later realize they made a mistake. To deal with changed situations, the state of Missouri allows ex-spouses to petition a court to modify a Missouri child custody, child support or maintenance (alimony) arrangement.
In order to change spousal maintenance or child support payments, an ex-spouse has to show the court that there are "changed circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms unreasonable." A small raise probably won't count as substantial enough to justify a change in the order; you and your divorce attorney must prove that there's been a significant change. Common reasons for a post-judgment change in payments include:
- A substantial decrease or increase in income for either person (lost job, changed job).
- Changes in who has primary custody of children, or significant changes in the amount of time children spend with each parent.
- Changes in the child's financial needs, such as an illness or private school.
- Remarriage of a custodial parent.
You don't need to petition the court for a change in maintenance payments if a supported spouse remarries or dies; your payments end automatically. Child support payments and custody arrangements end automatically on the child's emancipation (usually the eighteenth birthday) or death.
Courts also require a substantial change in circumstances in order to change child custody arrangements. The court will decide based on what it thinks is best for the child, just as it did during the original custody case. Again, you and your divorce attorney must prove that the change is substantial. Most common reasons for a child custody change are negative: a new danger in the home of one parent, substantial interference with the other parent's visitation rights, or a change in circumstances that makes it impossible for one parent to care for the child, such as going to prison. Grandparents may petition for custody if they feel neither parent is caring for the child adequately.
However, if one parent with joint custody wishes to move very far from the other, special rules apply. The relocating parent must give the other parent written notice, sixty days in advance, saying where, when and why they're going, and proposing a new custody plan. The parent (or other legal guardian) who's not relocating may object, and a court will decide. A relocating parent may be required to pay transportation costs for long-distance visitation. Missouri courts can and will penalize parents who move out of state or far away without telling the other parent, so it's extremely important to consult an experienced divorce attorney like Tonya D. Page before planning your move.
Even ex-spouses who agree on changes in payments and custody should get the legal protection of a court order. When your ex opposes the change, it's even more important to make sure you have a tenacious, sympathetic advocate like Tonya D. Page by your side. Call her St. Louis family law firm today for confidential consultation on a post-judgment modification.