What Are Post-Decree Modifications in a Divorce?

These days, it’s unrealistic to assume that a divorce ruling can last forever. Life changes more rapidly for modern people. People often bounce from job to job within their chosen field. Moreover, people can lose those jobs through economic shifts. Many people are also quite mobile, moving from place to place.

When a courtroom makes a divorce ruling, it expects that ruling to last indefinitely. Given life’s changes, however, those rulings often require reevaluation. An alteration to a previous divorce ruling is called a “post-decree modification.”

Such modifications can apply to virtually any decision made by the courts, but we often see them in support and child custody rulings.

Support Modifications

“Support” can apply to both spouses and children. Spousal support helps someone who, after the divorce, has fewer financial options. Child support is for keeping the kids healthy, and both parents contribute to it.

Either spousal support or child support can be modified, depending on the situation. First and foremost, neither should leave someone broke, even for someone who makes both payments. If you’ve always had trouble making support payments, the original ruling must be reevaluated. Perhaps the court made a mistake, or it assumed that you were poised to make more money. Get with your attorney, and allow them to help you plea for an alteration.

Other Reasons to Modify Support

Support can be modified if you’ve experienced a significant life change. Examples include:

Losing a Job or Being Demoted

Layoffs and position changes are more common as the economy changes, and people lose work through no fault of their own. If you were forced to step down or take a lower-paying position, you may be able to plea for a lower support payment.

Be aware: This applies only to circumstances beyond your control. If you were fired for poor performance, chose to take a lower-paying job, or changed jobs of your own volition, you may not be eligible for a support modification.

Your spouse can also request a modification if you make more money. Support decisions are based on your income. If you make significantly more money now than you did at the time of divorce, you could be asked to pay more in child support. It’s unlikely your increased income will affect spousal support payments, but it might.


Both spousal and child support are based on the incomes of each person. Combined incomes are considered marital assets. If your spouse remarries, and their new spouse is employed, then technically, they make more money. Therefore, they need less support. If your spouse is significantly more well-off due to their new marriage, you may have a solid foundation for a modification.

Be aware: The same can happen if you remarry. Technically, your new marriage increases your income, and your ex could request an increase in either spousal or child support.

You Have a New Baby

The number of children you have affects child support payments. The money is meant to support each child within a reasonable amount. If you have another child, that’s another mouth to feed. You can go to the courts and argue that you cannot reasonably support this child along with your current payments.

A new baby will probably not affect your spousal support payments. Those are based on completely different criteria.

If your ex has a new baby, this will probably not affect your child or spousal support payments.

Child Custody Modifications

California uses percentages in child custody decisions. For instance, one parent may have the kids 60% of the time, and the other has them for 40%. Significant life changes can influence those percentages in either direction. You may want the kids for more time, or you may be forced to take them for less.

Parents are free to temporarily change custody as needed. If, however, you need a permanent change, you must submit that alteration to the court. You can either trust it to create new orders, or you can renegotiate with your spouse. If you choose to create a new plan together, make sure you submit it to the courts afterward. This can protect you from false accusations of breaking a plan, or you can use it to hold the other parent accountable when needed.

Reasons to Modify Child Custody

The standards for changing child custody agreements are less strict than those of support orders. Examples include:

Either Parent Moves

Even at close range, it’s difficult to maintain a close percentage of custody. When a parent moves, close percentages can become downright impossible.

A Parent’s Schedule Permanently Changes

Any schedule change can alter your ability to see the kids. For instance, moving from a day to a night shift can have a huge impact on your time.

Either Parent Has More Support at Home

Being a single parent is hard, and it often requires outside help. If you have a small support system, you may not be able to manage the kids for long stretches.

That problem could change. Perhaps you have family that moves closer, or you remarry. This makes it easier for you to have the kids for longer, and it may be justification for a modification.

Your Relationship with the Kids Changes

Perhaps the divorce put a strain on your relationship with the kids, and keeping them for long stretches has been tough. Over time, however, you grow closer, and both you and the kids want more time together. This could justify a custody percentage alteration.

Creating Your Own Modifications

If you cannot work with your ex, which is the case for many, you must rely on the courts to make new, fair post-decree modifications. If, however, you can get along with them enough to negotiate changes, we suggest you attend mediation. In this process, you can hire a legal professional to help by taking a neutral position. This allows you to make decisions together. Your mediator can also help you cover areas you may have missed.

If you need help with a post-decree modification in California, call (949) 565-4158 today for a consultation. You can also schedule time with us online.