It is important to remember that while the division of assets and debt are final upon divorce, this is not the case for issues relating to the children. In Massachusetts, child-related issues such as custody, parenting time and child support remain open to modification by the Court upon a material and substantial change in circumstance.
If one parent believes that there has been a material and substantial change in circumstance that warrant a modification of child-related issues, such as child support, custody, health and life insurance coverage, college education expense payment, that parent must file a Complaint for Modification with the Court and make sure the other parent is properly served with that Complaint. However, a Complaint for Modification is not a vehicle to re-litigate your divorce. You must show there has been a material and substantial change in circumstance since the facts that surrounded your divorce were resolved. Specifically, the parent who filed the Complaint for Modification must not only prove that there has been a material and substantial change in circumstance, but also that the modification is necessary in consideration of the best interests of the child. With respect to child support, under the current Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines, a child support order can be modified by the Court upon a material change in circumstance OR after three (3) years have passed since the current child support obligation was ordered.
It is very important to remember that the original court orders remain in effect until the Court enters another written order that specifically changes the terms, such as the amount of child support that must be paid. For example, even if the parents are in agreement, either in writing or verbally, to reduce child support amount, until the judge actually orders a change in the amount, the previous court ordered amount must still be paid in full. In other words, it is imperative that the parents have their written agreement entered as a court order so that it supercedes the older order. Otherwise, the payor-parent could be found in contempt for not paying the original court ordered amount. Also, if it seems like one parent is delaying or not following through with an agreement to reduce child support, then it is imperative that the payor-parent file a Complaint for Modification and serve the other parent as soon as possible. The reason for this important action is that a Judge only has authority to retroactively reduce the child support amount to the date the other parent was actually served with the Complaint for Modification. If you are not sure how to proceed, it is always best to consult with an attorney. Mavrides Law provides consultation services at a flat fee rate so you can get the advice you need to decide how best to proceed.
Attorney Jennifer R. Silva