Virginia Law on Modification of Final Divorce Decrees

By Elizabeth Rayne, J.D.

Mother and daughter

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In Virginia, ex-spouses may modify spousal support, child support or custody if circumstances have changed since the time of divorce. The procedure for changing any part of the divorce decree begins with filing a petition with the court and stating your reasons why you think the existing order should be changed. The court may then schedule a hearing, allowing both former spouses to provide their side of the story.

Divorce Decree Overview

After getting a divorce in Virginia, spouses are granted a divorce decree, which provides for property division, child custody arrangements and awards of spousal and child support. Once the order is in place, the provisions may be changed only under certain circumstances. When it comes to property division, the court may change the order only if less than 21 days have passed since the decree was finalized. After 21 days, spouses may not request a modification of property division. However, custody, child support and spousal support are generally modifiable if circumstances have changed.

Custody Modification

If circumstances have materially changed since the time of the original order and it is in the best interest of the child, either parent may ask the court to change the custody or visitation arrangement. In Virginia, courts distinguish between legal custody, which refers to who makes decisions for the child, and physical custody, which refers to whom the child lives with. You may share legal or physical custody with your ex-spouse or have sole legal or physical custody with you or your ex-spouse granted visitation. In any case, the court may modify the order due to a change in circumstances, such as a change in the child's education or health demands or the remarriage of a parent. To modify the existing custody arrangement, you must petition the court that originally issued the order.

Child Support Modification

In Virginia, either parent may ask the court to change the amount of child support if the circumstances of either parent have substantially changed since the time of the original order. Support modification usually comes about as a result of a change in either parent's income, such as when a parent gets a new job. You may request a change by filing a petition with the court that originally issued the order.

Spousal Support Modification

Either spouse may also petition the court to change a spousal support award under certain circumstances. Virginia courts may order lump sum support or periodic support paid over a period of time. The support may automatically end at a certain date or last indefinitely. No matter the case, if the spouse receiving spousal support remarries or cohabits with another person, the other spouse may ask the court to terminate the support order. The court may also change the order if circumstances have materially changed. However, Virginia couples should be aware that a settlement agreement for spousal support may provide that the support order may not be changed due to a change in circumstances; in such cases, the court may not be permitted to change the award.