Yes, you can modify an existing family court order. To do so, you must file what the Maine courts call a "Motion to Modify a Family Law Judgment," and there will be requirements that must be met prior to filing your motion in order to ensure a successful outcome. Maine law states that the primary requirement for a requested change to parental rights and responsibilities must be a "substantial change" in your ability to fulfill the active judgment. Because Maine considers the needs of the children first, it is their best interest - not yours - that will be taken into consideration, and if your life change is not substantial, the court will likely reject your motion.
Examples of substantial life changes that would require a modification to your current family law judgment include a significant change in your or your ex-spouse's income, generally an increase or decrease of 15 percent or more; a change in your schedule that requires adjustment to visitation times; or a significant change in your ability to maintain your involvement in your children's lives, such as the need to relocate or a physical or mental incapacitation. These situations are not always straightforward, so going into a modification without guidance isn't recommended. If you need to adjust your family law judgment, whether it is your child support payments or your custodial rights, you should enlist the help of counsel qualified to ensure that the court understands your needs fully and meets them.
Some Things to Keep in Mind Prior to Filing
Even if your changes have been significant, there is a possibility the court will still reject any modifications to your family law judgment. This is, in most part, to protect the children. Their lives have already been upset through your divorce, and the courts attempt to keep everything as settled as possible once the proceedings are finalized to avoid further upset. Still, there are times when modifications are necessary, and the courts will view more favorably adjustments to child support, spousal support or issues relating to the safety and wellbeing of your children. Disputes over the final judgment are not a reason to file a motion to modify, and the courts will likely take an unfavorable stance if this your reasoning behind the requested changes.
Another thing to keep in mind is timing. Obviously, life adjusts as the years go by, and if your final judgment is three years or older, you do stand a better chance of requesting changes to your child support payments without the burden of proving any substantial changes to your income or life circumstances. If you are requesting custodial changes or something of a more significant nature, your burden of proof remains the same, even if it's been three years or more since your current and active family law judgment.
A Sample Scenario
Let's look at a scenario that would warrant filing a motion to modify your family law judgment to give you a better idea of what the court requires. Assume your ex-spouse is the custodial parent of your two children. You are the non-custodial parent. During your marriage, your ex-spouse did not work; she stayed at home to raise your children. It was agreed at the time of your divorce that she would continue to be a "stay-at-home mom," and you agreed to monthly spousal and child support to ensure her income remained secure.
The company you worked for conducted a series of lay-offs and you were included in the recent cut. You received a 90-day severance package and found a new job during that time. Unfortunately, your new job's monthly salary is an overall reduction of 30 percent. This is definitely a "substantial change" to your monthly income, and you have the right to request a modification to your monthly child and spousal support payments.
To compensate for her loss in income, your ex-spouse has agreed to work part-time; in fact, she wants to get back into the work force. To do so, however, she needs you to adjust your visitation hours so you will have the children during her shifts. Alongside your modification to the monthly support payments, you and your ex-spouse must modify your visitation arrangements as well. This, too, is something that the court will consider.
Let's Be Real
This scenario is amicable and, likely, the two ex-spouses would be able to come to a modification agreement together, draft it, execute it, and file it with the court - no hassle. In real life, however, modifications to divorce agreements are rarely amicable, and fights over money, custody and visitation rights can get ugly, even in the modifying stages. You must file official court documents detailing your modification request and serve your ex-spouse with the suggested changes, understanding that your ex has the right to dispute them.
As with your divorce, modifications to your parental rights and responsibilities are delicate and oftentimes difficult. It is important to ensure that you meet the requirements for any motion to modify and that the children's best interests are kept at heart. Make certain you do not file the motion alone. Seek advice from an attorney who focuses on Family Law to ensure the best possible outcome of your modification request.