Modification of Family Court Orders
Every family law matter – whether divorce, paternity, custody and parenting time, or child support– starts with filing a summons and complaint and ends with the entry of a final order or judgment. Sometimes though – and more often than not when children are involved – the parties in a domestic case have to return to court to modify their judgment or final order in proceedings generally referred to as post-judgment (or modification) actions.
Post-Judgment Modification of Family Court Orders
In modification proceedings, the person – or petitioner – filing the motion claims that circumstances have changed since the entry of the last order and that changes to that last order are necessary. Reasons to seek modification of an existing order might be if:
- A parent ordered to pay child support gets a new job, loses a job or becomes disabled
- A custodial parent wishes to relocate with the child for a better job or for support from family following the breakdown of a relationship, known as a change of domicile proceeding
- A parent has engaged in criminal activity or is experiencing mental health and/or substance abuse problems which put a child’s safety and well-being at risk
- A parent’s work schedule has changed requiring modifications to the parenting time schedule
- An ex ordered to pay spousal support retires and needs to lower his or her alimony payment due to a change in income.
When it comes to the modification of domestic orders, however, Michigan courts prefer stability and constancy for children over the preferences of parents. For that reason, the longer an order has been in place, the harder it becomes to change. Often, repeated efforts to modify established custody and parenting time arrangements only hurt families in the long run by reigniting longstanding arguments between parents in a very public forum. This is one reason why at the Peter J. Johnson Law Office, we encourage alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation before slinging arrows in court.
Post-Judgment Enforcement Proceedings
In enforcement proceedings, the person filing the motion claims that the opposing party has not done something the previous order required him or her to do. Often in these cases, one side is asking the court to find the other side in contempt for violating an order (or show cause why he or she should not be held in contempt). An enforcement or show cause motion may be appropriate if:
- One party was to sell or refinance the marital home by a certain date and has failed to do so
- A custodial parent refuses to allow the other parent to exercise court-ordered parenting time
- A person ordered to pay child support falls substantially behind on payments
A word of warning: when it comes to enforcement and contempt, a post-judgment action should always be a tool of last resort. Judges generally want to see that parties have tried everything they can to resolve the problem themselves – even going to mediation – before seeking court intervention. In the end, if one party is determined to have unreasonably refused to follow a court order, a judge has the authority to issue a variety of remedies, such as awarding make-up parenting time, payment of attorney fees and costs, and – in extreme circumstances – jail. The key word is “unreasonable,” meaning a skilled attorney could protect you from loss and damages if your lack of compliance was justifiable.
Contact us to schedule your free consultation with a family law attorney experienced with modifying family court orders who will help you weigh the likelihood of success against the costs of litigation, and to consider less contentious options like mediation or collaborative divorce, as well as joint counseling and co-parenting classes.
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