A divorce decree is a formal declaration by the court that a couple's marriage has been formally terminated. Every divorce decree, no matter what state it has been ordered by, will cover all or several of the following topics: the alimony obligation of one spouse to another; the division of real estate and other property which the couple divided during the divorce proceedings; who has legal custody of any children in the marriage; the visitation rights regarding the children which can be expected by both parents; and decisions regarding the financial support given to the children of the now-dissolved marriage, also known as child support.
But what happens if one of the issues covered by the divorce decree needs to be changed or amended? There may be a change in a parent's ability to provide custody, or one of the partner's ability to pay the agreed-upon alimony or child support. One of the divorcing partners may need to move out of state, impacting child custody or visitation issues.
In order to amend a divorce decree, you and your former partner must sit down and agree on exactly how you want to amend the original terms of your divorce agreement. A document entitled "Amendment to Settlement Agreement signed on (date original divorce agreement was signed)" must be drafted and filed with the proper court as a pleading. Since this amending of your divorce decree carries the same legal weight as your original decree, it is a very wise idea to have a divorce attorney handles the amendment process for you or to obtain competent legal advice regarding this issue.
Once this agreement has been typed out in the proper legal format, both parties to the divorce must sign, date and notarize the agreement. The next legal step is to draft a motion to ratify the amendment to the settlement agreement, which outlines the original terms both parties agreed to in the divorce.
What this motion is doing is asking the court to sign an order for the revised divorce agreement to be recognized and allowed to go into effect. When the court agrees with the amendment document and sees no cause for it not to go into effect, the court will then issue an order ratifying your amended agreement and order that it be filed with the clerk of the court. If both parties are agreeing to the changes requested, there is usually no problem with the court filing the amended divorce decree.
Both parties to the divorce can then expect to receive a ratified copy of the divorce amendment. Once ratified, this amendment is as legal and binding as what was agreed to in the original divorce settlement. So it is important that you never sign an amendment agreement without carefully reading it and understanding exactly what is being changed from your original decree. Legal representation in handling any amendment to a standing divorce decree is well worth the time and money to ensure that your rights are well represented.