By: Naomi Garfinkel
Ideally after the conclusion of a divorce your matter will be fully resolved, either through Alternative Dispute Resolution and a settlement agreement or through a court trial. You will have either resolved your outstanding issues or a judge will have filed an order based upon representations and testimony given at a trial or another hearing. For some, directives from a judge or a mutual agreement are sufficient to move forward after ending a marriage. For others, changes in circumstances or needs arise months or years after a divorce is finalized, and parties can find themselves returning to mediation or the courtroom to resolve new issues.
The following are a few common issues that occur after a divorce is finalized:
1. Custody Modification: Parties can agree to modify a custody award or one parent can bring a motion to modify custody if there has been a “persistent and willful denial or interference with parenting time, or has reason to believe that the child’s present environment may endanger the child’s physical or emotional health or impair the child’s emotional development .” [Minnesota Statute §518.18 (c).] In the event a custody modification is brought before a judicial officer it is often helpful to have the input of a mental health professional who can work with parents and the children and eventually weigh in on the factors relevant to a custody modification.
2. Parenting Time Modification: A parenting time modification can occur for different reasons: moving to a new city that is farther away from a co-parent; change to a child’s schedule; or a move out of state. Often, a divorce decree will provide guidance as to what parties should do in the aforementioned, or other, circumstances. Unless parties have a history of domestic abuse, typically mediation would be the first step to resolving a parenting time dispute. If parties are unable to resolve their dispute through mediation, a party can file a motion with the court asking for specific relief. While mediation can be less expensive and time consuming than involving the court on any matter, judicial involvement sometimes becomes necessary when parties simply cannot resolve their issues. A judicial officer will consider the issues surrounding the request to modify parenting time and the applicable statutes prior to making a determination.
3. Child Support Modification: In Minnesota child support awards are most commonly determined based upon the parties’ income, the parenting time schedule, and the cost of medical and dental insurance, and child care. If one party changes jobs, for example, which leads to an either significant increase or decrease in income, there may be cause for modifying a child support award. Similarly, if an initial child support award is based upon three minor children, and two have emancipated, a child support award may be modified to accommodate the new circumstances. Bringing this matter to court is not always necessary, if parties can agree to exchange relevant financial information so a new child support calculation can be made. If, however, there is no agreement on a new child support figure, judges and child support magistrates can become involved.
4. Child Support/Spousal Maintenance Enforcement: If one party is obligated to pay child support or spousal maintenance, ensuring that payment occurs is frequently a top concern for the recipient. Many counties offer automatic income withholding services for child support, and sometimes for spousal maintenance. This makes receipt of the award easier to track and rely upon. In the event automatic income withholding is not an option, and payment is directly made between the parties, it is important for both parties to keep reliable records of payment. In the event the party with the support obligation fails to pay timely and consistently, court intervention is an option.
The above contains examples of just some of the issues that may arise after a divorce or custody matter ends. There are many different ways to address these issues, both with and without court intervention. It is important to work with an attorney you trust and have confidence in, when navigating these sometimes rocky roads.