After a judgment is entered in the Probate and Family Court, certain terms of said judgment may be subject to modification if the circumstances of the parties change. In most instances, if both parties desire to make modifications outside of court, the parties can put the agreement in writing and submit that documentation to the court. However, if only one party is seeking modification and the other party does not agree to it, a complaint for modification must be filed and the change in circumstances must be shown to the court in order to change the terms of the original judgment.
Modification of Custody and Child Support Orders
Courts do not allow parents who are simply unhappy with the result of a court order to request modification (in these cases, either party can file an appeal, but not a modification). Instead, courts require a sowing of a substantial and material change in circumstances to grant a modification of a custody or child support order. Courts also require that the modification be in the best interests of the child. In the context of a child custody or child support order, a change in circumstances can include changes in one parent’s income, loss of job by a parent, the long-term illness of a parent, the criminal conviction of a parent, and any event that significantly alters a parent’s schedule and/or income stream. For changes in a child support order, sometimes a passage of time alone would be sufficient to warrant a modification.
Modification of Alimony
In addition to material and substantial change in circumstances, Massachusetts legislation enacted an Alimony Reform Act which became effective on March 1, 2012. In some cases involving situations where a former spouse has sought application of the Alimony Reform Act to a court order issued before 2012, the courts have declined to apply the terms of the Act. The manner in which alimony can be modified often depends upon the language of the divorce agreement in question. No party may seek a modification of an existing alimony judgment where the parties have agreed that the terms of the judgment would survive and remain non-modifiable.
Modification of Property Division Between Former Spouses
In Massachusetts, absent finding of fraud against one of the spouses, modifications of property divisions following the divorce are not permitted by law.