How Major Life Changes Affect Your Divorce Terms

But now, you’re facing some new life challenges that could have a huge impact on your finances and custody arrangements. What should you do?

Changing the terms of your divorce settlement

It may be possible to change the terms of your divorce settlement.

Judges go to great lengths to make sure everyone's needs are considered in a divorce settlement, especially the kids. When your divorce decree was signed and put into action, the intention was for it to remain constant. 

But your divorce decree was based on one snapshot in time. What happens if you lose your job or move to a different state? Or a special financial need comes up for one of the kids?

The settlement agreement you hammered out months or years ago did not consider all possible variables that life could eventually throw at you. No one can predict the future; that would be an impossible feat. For this reason, it is indeed possible to modify a marital settlement agreement.

Any changes to your settlement must be done through the court system. You may be able to get a court to grant a modification to these terms, but the court will first require you to prove a substantial and material change in your life or your ex’s life. 

“Change is the only constant in life.” – Greek philosopher Heraclitus

What aspects of a settlement can be modified?

Some aspects of your divorce terms can be changed under certain conditions. For example, you may be able to seek a modification of your child support, child custody, parenting time schedule, or spousal support terms. Note, however, that the court usually doesn’t approve modifications unless you can prove a significant change in your circumstances that justifies them.

What do courts consider a substantial change? 

This is a tough question. The answer varies depending on the state that has jurisdiction in your matter and the type of modification you seek.

Life situations that may warrant a modification could include a significant gain or loss of employment or income, a sudden significant change in expenses, relocation, death, or retirement. 

If you decide to ask for a modification, you will need to present evidence of these changes to the court for its review.

Child support

If you or your ex has experienced a significant change in income or expenses, you may be able to seek a modification to your child support agreement – the amount you pay or the amount you receive.

Situations that might warrant a change in your child support include the following:

  • An involuntary job loss
  • A significant increase or decrease in the paying spouse’s income 
  • A significant increase or decrease in your child’s expenses
  • Your child’s additional educational or medical needs
  • A long-term disability or illness experienced by you or your former spouse

The court will consider the child support guidelines of your state while looking closely at your reasons for seeking the modification. If the change does not appear to be permanent, depending on the circumstances, a judge may approve a temporary support modification for a finite period of time. 

Courts tend to favor parents who can come to an agreement cooperatively to benefit their children. If you’re considering a child support modification, you may try to work it out with your ex before heading to court. A mediator could help you and your ex reach a solution that works for both of you before you take the matter before a judge.

Suggested: How to Win Child Custody Mediation

Spousal support

Significant changes in your life may make it necessary to ask for a modification of the spousal maintenance you were awarded or required to pay at the time of your divorce. 

While most courts will consider spousal support modification when given evidence of a significant change in your finances or other circumstances, terms for modification or non-modification may already be built into your agreement. If not, state laws will dictate how your support can be modified. 

It's important to understand the laws of your state and review your original agreement to understand whether and under what conditions your spousal support might be modified. 

Parenting plan

One of the judge’s main objectives in a divorce involving kids is to preserve consistency and stability in their lives and make decisions that are in their best interests. Because of this, even if both parents informally agree to a custody schedule change, the modifications would need the permission of the court.

Here are some reasons why a judge may consider a modification. 

  • A necessary relocation
  • One parent refuses to follow the terms of the parenting plan
  • Your child’s emotional or physical needs have changed
  • You or your ex’s emotional or physical needs have changed
  • Your child is mature enough to choose which parent they want to live with
  • Your child is in danger, there is criminal activity or abuse in your ex’s household, or there is evidence of parental failure

If you believe your child is in danger in your ex’s household, seek legal guidance. A protective order could be entered, and a judge could take emergency action to modify custody so your child stays safe.

Again, judges tend to treat parents who work together cooperatively with more favor. If possible, you and your ex may want to try to resolve your child custody issues between yourselves first. The new terms must be put into writing and presented to the court for the judge’s review. 

Can support modifications be retroactive?

In most cases, support modifications are not retroactive. Modified support payments are only effective from the filing date of the modification application. 

In other words, if your change in circumstance happened a while ago but you only sought modification recently, you would not receive “back pay” if you won a judgment for increased child support.

Who can help me modify my divorce settlement?

An attorney can advise you if your circumstances are likely to be accepted by the court as justification for a modification. They can help guide you through the process. Comprehensive records are highly helpful. 

Although Hello Divorce cannot create a modification for you, we do provide attorney sessions in which you can get legal advice. We also have divorce coaching and financial divorce planning services with a CDFA you might find helpful. 


Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.