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Modifications Of Missouri Dissolution Judgments

When a dissolution of marriage, or divorce, is finalized in a Missouri family law court, the divorce decree is entered, and if the dissolution involves children, a custody order, and often a child support order will be part of the final court judgment. The divorce decree may award maintenance, payable by one spouse to the other. It is possible, after the judgment is final, to request that the court formally change the existing terms of the judgment, if they are no longer fair due to a change in circumstances since the initial decree was entered. This change of judgment is known as a modification, and can be requested of the court by one party, or both parties who are in agreement. 

This article, presented by The Law Firm of Kenneth L. Jamison, takes a closer look at the process of divorce decree modifications in Missouri courts. 

What Can Be Changed?

In Missouri family courts, child custody orders, visitation arrangements, and child support orders can be modified, as long as certain conditions are met. Spousal maintenance, formerly known as alimony, can also be modified, unless the decree ordered that the maintenance awarded was ‘unmodifiable’. There are, however, some divorce terms that are generally unmodifiable, meaning they are final and cannot be changed. These unmodifiable terms include the division of property including retirement assets, division of debts, orders regarding attorney fees, and no spousal support orders.  

A party, or parties, seeking a modification in Missouri courts, must show the court “changed circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms unreasonable.” If the modification being requested involves child custody, visitation arrangements, or child support payments, the requesting party will have to show the court that the modification is in the best interests of the child. 

Reasons For Modifications

As stated above, in order for the court to modify terms of a previous judgment, it must be proven that there has been a significant change in circumstances. The following are some of the most common reasons for post-judgment modifications: 

  • A significant change in either party’s income (for example: loss of employment or a change of jobs)
  • Changes involving child custody, or significant changes in the amount of time the children spend with each parent 
  • Changes in the financial needs of the child(ren). Examples of this are medical expenses caused by illness or increased education costs if the child changes from public to private school  
  • A danger in one parent’s home that wasn’t present at the time of the judgment
  • One parent’s substantial interference with the other’s visitation rights
  • Changes that makes it impossible for one parent to provide child care (such as a disability or prison sentence)
  • The custodial parent remarries

In some circumstances, it is not necessary to petition the court for a formal modification. If your ex-spouse receives maintenance payments from you and he or she remarries or dies, your payment obligation will end. Additionally, child custody arrangements and child support payments automatically end upon the child’s emancipation, which is usually on their 18th birthday, unless the child attends college and certain conditions are met, or upon the death of the child.

How Do I Start The Modification Process?

In Missouri family courts there are two ways to go about modifying an existing judgment. If the parties can amicably reach an agreement, and can show the court that the continuing and substantial change in circumstances has made the terms of the existing judgment unfair, the agreement can be submitted to the court for approval without a formal hearing. Parents who are in agreement and are seeking minor changes in custody and visitation arrangements, can greatly facilitate the process by submitting their agreed upon changes for the court’s approval and modification order. Assuming the judge approves, the modification process can go very smoothly. 

The other way to accomplish a modification in Missouri is the more formal route, and is necessary when the parties involved cannot reach an agreement. If one party opposes the modification, it is usually necessary to petition the court requesting the change. This petition is a motion to modify that is filed with the court that entered the original judgment.  In these situations, the court may order that the parties attempt to reach an agreement through mediation, which is a meeting with a qualified mediator appointed by the court. Alternatively, or if mediation is unsuccessful, the court may set the matter for trial where evidence will be presented and testimony given.  

Consult With A Family Law Attorney

Each family law case has its own set of particular circumstances, and modifications can be complicated. If you wish to modify your Missouri divorce decree, child custody, or child support order, you should consult with an experienced attorney who is knowledgeable in Missouri family law, local court rules, and the modification procedures. 

The Law Firm of Kenneth L. Jamison, located in Liberty, Missouri, specializes in family law and can help you navigate the modification process. Our attorneys work hard to provide the highest possible quality of legal service. Contact us by phone at (816) 200-7436, or on our website to schedule your free consultation. 

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