In most civil cases, the final order puts the matter to bed. For example, almost all personal injury settlements include legal waivers. As one of my law professors said, victims only get one trip to the salad bar of justice.
But marriage dissolution resolutions are different. These orders almost always contain ongoing provisions, such as DSOs (Domestic Support Obligations, such as alimony) and child visitation provisions. So, a divorce decree is more a beginning point than an endpoint.
Families change frequently, and orders quickly become outdated. Therefore, most people should modify their divorce decrees at least once every three years. A legal modification with a Hutchinson family law attorney is the best way, and often the only way, to keep the peace. Informal side agreements, no matter how well-intentioned they might be, are always unenforceable.
When Can Hutchinson Family Law Attorneys Modify Divorce Orders?
Frequent modifications are the best way to keep up with constant changes. Even a slight increase or decrease in income can affect DSOs. Similarly, if a family moves just a few miles, the delicate pickup/drop-off balance may be hopelessly thrown off kilter. So, a judge can modify a decree if:
- Changed circumstances affect
- The best interests of the children.
Hutchinson family law attorneys must establish both these prongs. Assume Sue wants to move her family closer to her job. The proposed move is definitely in Sue’s best interests, but it may or may not be in the children’s best interest.
Generally, a McLeod County judge can entertain a modification action when the parents agree one is necessary, if the children are in emotional or physical danger, or if at least two years have passed since the most recent order was entered.
Why Should the Judge Modify a Divorce Order?
As mentioned, Hutchinson family law attorneys can use pretty much anything to establish changed circumstances. Many times, the impact on the children is mixed. For example, a promotion at work usually means higher compensation and fewer hours at home. The best interests of the children usually involve a written presumption (children benefit from consistent and meaningful contact with both parents) and an unwritten one (children need consistency and stability).
Most DSO modifications rely on changed circumstances. It’s now easier to win these modification actions. A few years ago, Minnesota’s modification law changed and dropped the substantial change in circumstances requirement. At a minimum, the change must be:
- Meaningful (any income change under 5 percent is usually not meaningful),
- Unanticipated at the time the prior order was entered, and
A voluntary financial change means that people cannot quit high-paying jobs to reduce their child or spousal support obligations.
Visitation and custod changes usually hing on the best interests of the children. Some factors to consider include:
- Childrens’ needs,
- Parental and child preferences,
- Ability to co-parent, and
- Parental emotional and physical health.
In 2015, lawmakers added the following presumption to this part of the Revised Code: “The court shall consider both parents as having the capacity to develop and sustain nurturing relationships with their children unless there are substantial reasons to believe otherwise. In assessing whether parents are capable of sustaining nurturing relationships with their children, the court shall recognize that there are many ways that parents can respond to a child’s needs with sensitivity and provide the child love and guidance, and these may differ between parents and among cultures.”
How Do Judges Resolve Motions to Modify?
If the parents agree on the modification, and a Hutchinson family law attorney formalizes it, most judges will approve the agreement after only a cursory hearing. Minnesota law has a strong presumption in favor of agreed resolutions. Generally, it’s always best for parents to work these things out between themselves.
If the parents do not agree, the matter will probably go to mediation. A third party, who is usually an unaffiliated Hutchinson family law attorney, works to facilitate a settlement between the parties. Mediated settlements are the next best thing to agreed settlements. Mediation decreases legal expenses, gives the parties more control over the outcome, and increases civility.
If both informal settlement negotiations and mediation fail, which is extremely rare, the final trial usually takes place before a judge without a jury.
Rely on Experienced Lawyers
Most divorce cases never “close.” They just lie dormant for a few years, and then a motion to modify revives them. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson family law attorney, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in McLeod County and nearby jurisdictions.