The ultimate result of a divorce action is the Divorce Decree, which finalizes all issues of the parties' marriage. It can be a long and tiring journey to get to that point, but it usually marks the end of the road. However, in some cases there may be interest among one or both parties to amend their Divorce Decree, which begs the question: can a Divorce Decree be modified once it has been finalized?
The reality is that a Divorce Decree is meant to be permanent and govern the relations of the couple for years to come. It should deal with every aspect of the parties' marriage, such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, division of assets and debts, restraining orders, etc. When the decree is issued, it is intended to govern (as much as possible) the matters related to the divorce in perpetuity. That being said, sometimes things need to change to reflect important life developments.
Some issues are almost impossible to have changed. For instance, the division of assets and debts set forth in the Divorce Decree is almost always permanent and the chances of a Court changing those terms range from slim to none. In cases concerning property and debt division, a modification will only be considered if you are able to prove that certain types of fraud or misrepresentation has occurred. In other words, a very high burden must be met, as the Court wants the divorce to finalize the asset and debt issues to the greatest extent possible so that everyone can move on with their lives.
However, issues pertaining to children, such as custody, visitation, and child support, may be changed if one of the parties can show there has been a significant change of circumstances since the Divorce Decree was issued. Certain types of alimony (and there are many types in South Carolina) may also be subject to modification upon a showing of significantly changed circumstances. Even with these types of issues though, simply showing changed circumstances doesn't guarantee that the Court will change anything, it only opens the door for the request to be considered.
As you can see, these issues are complicated, and there are many “if's, and's, & but's” involved when analyzing them. Therefore, if you are interested in seeking a modification of a prior Order, you would be wise to schedule a consultation with an experienced family law attorney to discuss the options available to you based on the facts of your specific case. Serious cases deserve serious lawyers, and as with many things in life, you get what you pay for – so seek out the best family law attorney that you can find to help with your case. Our Senior Partner, Ben Stevens, is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, which is an exclusive group made up of 1,600 Fellows in 50 states who are highly skilled negotiators and litigators who represent individuals in all facets of family law.