Modification of Family Court Orders
After a paternity, divorce or legal separation judgment is entered by a Missouri family court, the court retains continuing jurisdiction to modify the terms of the judgment. This means the court can always modify your family court judgment at a later date, provided all other jurisdictional requirements are met at such time. The items that most people seek to modify from their original judgment include child support, child custody and maintenance. These items are always modifiable, with some important caveats.
Child support is automatically terminated when the child is deemed emancipated by statute (see Missouri Revised Statutes Sec. 452.340.3). Maintenance is only modifiable if it was granted to the party at the time of the original judgment and was not labeled “term” or “non-modifiable” maintenance at such time. Further, maintenance is automatically terminated by the death of either party or the remarriage of the party receiving maintenance, unless the parties agree otherwise or the original judgment states otherwise.
In regards to what you need to prove to modify the child support or maintenance judgment in your case, you must allege changed circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the original judgment’s terms unreasonable (Missouri Revised Statutes Sec. 452.370.1). This is a burden on the party seeking a modification to put forth sufficient evidence to prove his or her allegations. To determine whether a modification should be granted, the court will look at the financial resources of both parties. This includes examining what each party was earning at the time of the original judgment compared to what he or she is earning now, as well if either party is financially supported by a spouse or cohabitating partner. It is important to note that the court will often impute income to a party if said party is not currently working. This means that his or her earning capacity is used as his or her income at the time of the modification, even if the person is not actually making that much money at the time of the modification.
Specifically with regards to child support, a party seeking a modification has met his or her burden of showing changed circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the original judgment’s terms unreasonable if there is at least a twenty percent (20%) change from the child support chart (Form 14) used in the original judgment.
As for a modification of child custody, the party seeking the modification must show changed circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the original judgment’s terms unreasonable. Specifically, he or she must prove that a change has occurred in the circumstances of the child or his custodian and that the modification is necessary to serve the best interests of the child (Missouri Revised Statutes Sec. 452.410.1). A relocation of either parent will automatically trigger a basis for a modification, but other changed circumstances could include abuse or neglect. If a child desires to live with the other parent or is not doing well living with one parent as opposed to the other could also be a basis for a modification. If the parties have been following a different custody schedule than that outlined in the original judgment, such as one parent having considerably more custody time than granted in the judgment, that could also be a basis for a modification. At all times when making a custody determination or modification, the court will focus on the best interests of the child.
Seeking a modification of child custody, child support or maintenance is a fact-driven inquiry; however, it also incorporates many different Missouri statues and rules. It is critical that you have an in-depth discussion with your legal counsel about seeking a modification in your particular case based on your individual set of circumstances. If you have a contested issue of child custody, child support or maintenance, please contact our office for a consultation.