Overturning a Divorce Decree

By Ciele Edwards

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Like a successful marriage, a successful divorce depends heavily on clear communication and compromise. Divorcing spouses must tackle heavy issues, such as property division and child custody. After the divorce is final, the court prepares a written record of the issues brought forth during the divorce. This record is commonly known as a “divorce decree.” Depending on your circumstances and your state's laws, you may be able to have your divorce decree modified at a later date.

Overturning Divorce Decree

Although a divorce decree may meet the needs of both parties when the court issues it, family needs and circumstances change over time. Should this occur, you can file a motion with the court asking that it review and change the original decree. When the court overturns a divorce decree, it sets aside the previous court ruling in favor of a new one. Any issue in the divorce decree that you do not directly address with the court will remain a legally enforceable part of the existing decree.

Modification Limitations

Your state laws determine which parts of your divorce decree are permanent and which are subject to change. Alimony and child custody are two examples of court orders that often appear in divorce decrees and can be modified at a later date based on each individual's changing financial situation.

After filing a motion to modify your divorce decree with the court, you must either serve your ex-spouse with a copy of the motion or provide the court clerk with your former spouse's address. The court then forwards copies of the modification paperwork to your ex-spouse.

Informal Modification

If you have an amiable relationship with your former spouse, the two of you may agree to behave in a way that contradicts the guidelines laid out in your divorce decree. While informal modifications save both parties the time and expense of returning to court, they do not constitute legally binding modifications and could cause legal problems in the future.

For example, if your divorce decree notes that you must pay a certain amount of child support each month yet you lose your job, your former spouse may agree to accept less child support until you locate new employment. Regardless of what your ex-spouse tells you, without a formal modification you are still legally responsible for the full amount you owe and could face considerable penalties if your spouse were to report your failure to pay the designated amount.

Overturning Divorce

Divorces generally take longer and are more expensive if one party disagrees with the divorce and wants to remain married. In some states, such as Mississippi, if your former spouse can raise a valid reason before the court as to why the finalized divorce decree is invalid, the court may overturn the decree and reopen the case for review. This voids the previously finalized divorce – essentially “re-marrying” the couple – until the court makes a ruling.