When a child custody, spousal support, child support, or other divorce-related order becomes unworkable, for whatever reason, many parents execute informal understandings about these matters. Such agreements often consist of little more than an exchange of emails or text messages. Reliance on these side agreements is always a bad idea. Since they are not enforceable in family court, judges largely ignore them.
The fallout is serious. Failure to pay support in precisely the manner stipulated may lead to wage garnishment and other adverse actions; picking up a child outside the written schedule without the specific consent of the other parent is child kidnapping.
Modification is typically a rather straightforward matter. The issues are limited to the relief sought, so school report cards are typically not relevant in a spousal support modification. In a similar vein, anything that transpired prior to the entry of the most recent order is also normally irrelevant. In both these actions, the key phrase is “changed circumstances.” But this term is not really not defined anywhere in the statute.
Changing a Child Support Order
Either party may request a modification of support in either direction, but typically these motions involve a custodial parent's request for additional support from the non-custodial parent. Courts may consider well over a dozen factors in these matters, including:
- Good faith employment change (an obligor cannot quit a job to reduce a child support obligation),
- Increase or decrease in income since the prior order,
- The needs of the children, and
- The standard of living the children would have had if the parents were married.
Any change must be in the best interest of the children.
Custody and Visitation Modification
As a rule of thumb, these changes are more difficult to obtain, because most family court judges place a premium on stability. A substantial change in circumstances may include issues like:
- A breakdown in co-parenting,
- Consistent interference with child visitation,
- Verified mistreatment or neglect allegations, and
- The custodial parent's health issues, including a problem with substance abuse.
There is normally a two-year waiting period for custody or visitation modifications unless there is a “serious endangerment to the children's mental, moral, physical, or emotional health.
Sustainable and practical orders are a cornerstone for successful co-parenting. For a confidential consultation, contact an experienced Naperville family law attorney. After-hours appointments are available.