Modifying and Enforcing Divorce Decrees

Knoxville Attorneys Modifying and Enforcing Divorce Decrees

Helping clients with post-divorce issues in Tennessee

After you get divorced, no matter who came up with the terms of the divorce agreement, you and your ex are both bound by law to follow it. However, we all know that life goes on, sometimes things change, and at some point down the road you may need to change that agreement. This is called modifying your divorce decree.

A common reason people ask for a modification of a divorce decree is for child support. For example, if the person paying child support has a substantial change in income – either lots more or lots less – that might necessitate a change in the amount of support. Tennessee requires a change of 15% or more (7.5% for low-income) in the amount of support to require a modification, either up or down. However, the income of the other parent also affects support, and the court may approve a modification if they have a significant change in circumstances.

The Knoxville divorce attorneys at LaFevor & Slaughter have years of experience helping families across Tennessee work through the divorce process – from beginning to end and everything after that. Talk to us about your post-divorce issues and how we can help.

Why would I want to change my divorce agreement after the fact?

The goal of divorce negotiation and litigation is to arrive at a workable and lasting settlement – “lasting” meaning that you should take long-term plans and the future into account before consenting to and signing any divorce agreement.

However, life doesn’t stand still. At the start of your divorce, you and your spouse may agree on all important points and arrive at a tidy divorce settlement, only to have circumstances beyond your control disrupt your life and make your settlement unworkable. The Law Offices of LaFevor & Slaughter can help you negotiate (or litigate, if necessary) modifications to your divorce settlement, using your new circumstances as proof. Our Knoxville attorneys can also defend your settlement against attempts by your ex-spouse to make unreasonable changes that infringe on your or your child’s rights.

Can I modify my custody agreement if my ex wants to move my child out of state?

Child custody and visitation are other matters that can change as well. One of the most difficult post-divorce issues is a relocation of the custodial parent. While no one wants to deny their ex-spouse an opportunity for career advancement or a new relationship, moving the kids out of state or even just out of town can put a heavy burden on the non-custodial spouse who just wants to maintain a meaningful relationship with their child.

What if my ex-spouse won’t follow our Knoxville divorce agreement? Can I get it enforced?

In the event that one of the parties in a divorce fails to follow a court order, the other party may be forced to start legal action to enforce the order and require action (or inaction) by the non-compliant party. Put more simply? Yes, you can. This is most often accomplished by filing a petition for contempt of court in Tennessee.

Common examples of a divorced party needing to seek enforcement of the divorce decree are:

  • The ex-spouse fails to pay support
  • The ex-spouse fails to turn over property
  • The ex-spouse refuses to allow court-ordered co-parenting time with children

Court remedies can include:

  • Wage assignment or garnishment
  • The Sheriff taking possession of money from a bank account
  • Holding the party in jail until they show a willingness to comply

At LaFevor & Slaughter, our divorce attorneys believe initiating contempt proceedings should be a last resort. Don’t hesitate to consult with us first – we can help you work on your specific goals and determine whether or not you can resolve your dispute without having to skip straight to contempt.

My spouse hid assets during our divorce. Now what?

Another post-divorce issue we often see with our clients involves dealing with intentionally or unintentionally undisclosed assets. If one spouse failed to disclose the existence of an important asset or debt during the divorce process, the other has the right to re-open the divorce by filing a post-judgment motion. Normally there are time limitations for bringing such actions.

However, if one of you relied and planned on an asset disclosure provided under oath as part of discovery, and that disclosure failed to include the undisclosed asset, the wronged party may choose to assert a claim. We can walk you through this process and explain all the details.

Reasons to modify alimony order post-divorce

When modifying a divorce decree, some alimony is subject to change and some is not. There are three types of alimony that can be modified in Tennessee: alimony in futuro (the one that lasts until death or remarriage), rehabilitative alimony (the one that allows a spouse to learn a new skill or get a degree), and, in one very specific circumstance, transitional alimony (the one that helps a spouse transition to a new life).

Your original alimony order represents the court’s best guess about both spouses’ finances as they go forward. Sometimes, one spouse undergoes a material change in circumstances, which can lead to a change in the order. For example, if you lose your job and have to take a big pay cut to get a new job, you can petition to have your alimony in futuro payments reduced.

Or, let’s say that your ex is getting rehabilitative alimony so they can get a degree – and then it turns out they dropped out of school because they didn’t like it, and haven’t made any efforts to go to a new school or learn a new skill. In this case, the court could withdraw the alimony payments because your ex isn’t doing everything in their power to improve their circumstances.

Transitional alimony is a little different, because the only way to modify it is if the original decree said it could be modified. If the decree says that, then the court is going to go through the same steps in its review that it went through when it originally granted alimony.

LaFevor & Slaughter helps those parents who need modifications to support orders because of changed economic circumstances.

If I can’t afford child support, can I just not pay it?

No, that is never an option. Failure to pay support is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in county jail. But the court has means short of incarceration to compel deadbeat parents to pay. For instance, the court can garnish wages and withhold state and federal tax refunds. Don’t skip a payment, and if your child’s parent is skipping payments, our Knoxville family law attorneys can supply the remedy that fits your particular circumstances.

If you can’t afford your child support, you can petition to have it modified just like any other part of the agreement – but you have to prove that there’s been a material or substantial change in circumstances. Losing your job or getting a life-altering medical diagnosis are common reasons to modify a child support order. Here’s another example of why someone might want an order modified:

  • The court may believe a dependent spouse will have light caregiver duties, and be able to work part-time for a decent income.
  • Then, one of their children becomes chronically ill, making working outside the home impossible. The child may also have increased medical bills.
  • The dependent spouse may have a case for increased child support.

Our attorneys are committed to defending your parental rights and advancing the best interests of your children. We can advise you on the best course to take, given your particular circumstances and the quality of your relationship with your children.

Our Knoxville attorneys can help you after your divorce decree is final

Every divorce is different. Your case may involve all or only part of the divorce process. You may want to discuss how we can help you once the divorce is final. At LaFevor & Slaughter, we put our nearly 40 years of experience to work for you even after your divorce is finalized and filed. To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, call us at (865) 637-6258 or fill out our contact form today.