When going through a divorce, it is important to be as thorough as possible. This includes not only ensuring that you address all of the issues that need to be addressed, but also taking the time to consider your future needs so that you can make informed decisions during the divorce process.
But, what happens if you overlooked something? Or, what if circumstance change such that the terms to which you agreed during your divorce no longer work? If this is the case, you may need to seek a post-judgment modification.
What are Your Options for Seeking a Post-Judgment Modification in Illinois?
It is not possible to obtain a post-judgment modification in all circumstances. Once a judge issues an order terminating a couple’s marriage, that order is generally considered final. If modifying the terms of a divorce was easy, the Illinois courts would constantly be inundated with requests, and divorcing spouses would be less likely to fully address all relevant considerations during the divorce process.
However, the Illinois courts also recognizes that circumstances can change unforeseeably. No one can predict the future, and a child custody arrangement or child support payment obligation that made sense five or ten years ago might not make sense today. As a result, it is possible to modify the terms of your divorce in many cases.
Broadly speaking, there are two ways that former spouses can seek to modify the terms of their divorce in Illinois. These are:
- By agreement, and
- By court order.
1. Modifying the Terms of Your Divorce by Agreement
The first option for modifying the terms of your divorce is by agreeing to a modification with your former spouse. If you and your former spouse can reach an agreement, you can submit the terms of your agreement to the appropriate Illinois court for approval. Once approved, the newly-agreed-upon terms will govern the terms of your divorce.
However, this presents some obvious (and not-so-obvious) challenges. In order to submit a mutually-agreed modification request, you and your former spouse actually have to agree. This means that you need to communicate effectively, and you both need to be willing to revisit the terms you negotiated when you got divorced. Not only that, but you must be in agreement on how you will modify your previous agreement. If this means that your former spouse will be receiving less financial support or spending less time with your children, it is not hard to see why he or she may be reluctant to voluntarily reopen negotiations.
Additionally, just as there were laws and guidelines you and your spouse had to follow during your divorce, there are limits on the ways in which former spouses can agree to modify their divorce judgments. For example, if you are seeking to modify child support, you will need to either (i) ensure that your desired modification complies with the Illinois Child Support Guidelines, or (ii) establish justification for deviating from the Guidelines’ standards. Similarly, if you are seeking to modify your child custody arrangement, you and your former spouse will need to be able to agree on a modification that still reflects the best interests of your children.
However, while these (and other challenges) exist, they can often be overcome. In many situations, both former spouses will be ready for a change, and agreeing on a modification will be a matter of opening a dialogue and finding common ground. An experienced Illinois family law attorney can help; and, if you need to try to modify the terms of your divorce, you should speak with an attorney about the possibility of negotiating a mutually-agreed modification.
2. Modifying the Terms of Your Divorce by Court Order
If negotiating an agreed post-judgment modification is not an option, then you will need to file a motion in court. When former spouses are not in agreement regarding a modification to their existing divorce judgment, the Illinois courts will generally only grant a modification if there is evidence of a “substantial change of circumstances.”
When is a change in circumstances considered “substantial”? While there is not a strict definition, examples of changes in circumstances that may warrant a motion for a post-judgment modification in Illinois include:
- One former spouse has lost his or her job
- One former spouse is earning significantly more than he or she was at the time of divorce
- One former spouse is cohabitation or has remarried
- One former spouse is seeking to relocate to another county or another state
- One former spouse has developed (or overcome) a drug or alcohol problem
Importantly, if you are seeking to modify your former spouse’s custody or visitation rights because you are in fear for your child’s safety, this is a different matter entirely. Emergency legal remedies are available, and you should speak with an Illinois family law attorney right away.
In any case, in order to convince the court that you have experienced a substantial change in circumstances and that your desired modification is appropriate, you will need evidence to support your motion for a post-judgment modification. The types of evidence you need will depend on the specific circumstances involved; and, here too, an experienced attorney can help you take all of the steps that are necessary to achieve your desired outcome.
Modifying the Terms of Your Divorce Requires Court Approval
Finally, a word of caution: Regardless of why you are seeking a post-judgment modification, and regardless of whether your former spouse is on board, you need to comply with your existing divorce judgment unless and until your requested modification receives court approval. Deviating from the terms of your existing judgment can get you into trouble with the court, and it can potentially make it more difficult to obtain a post-judgment modification as well.
Discuss Your Circumstances with Gurnee & Lake County, IL Family Lawyer Deanna J. Bowen
If you live in the Gurnee, IL area and would like more information about seeking a post-judgment divorce modification, we encourage you to get in touch. To schedule a free consultation with Lake County family law attorney Deanna J. Bowen, please call 847-623-4002 or inquire online today.