Practicing Family Law Since 1995

Modifications

Changes to Orders, Agreements and Judgments in Orlando and throughout Florida

Below are some general issues & answers about changing orders, judgements and settlement agreements in Florida.

Question: What is the “substantial change in circumstances” that is required in order to get a change to a final judgment, and what happens if the allegations in the supplemental petition do not legally meet that legal standard?
Answer: A “substantial change in circumstances” is a legal standard that must be specifically and correctly worded in the pleadings of a supplemental petition for modification or the supplemental petition can be dismissed. It is based on the underlying facts of the case, and can occur if someone who pays court-ordered support loses his or her job. Also, it is what must be proved in order to have the judge approve a change to a final judgment. The exact wording is going to depend on what the petitioner wants the judge to order and is going to depend on statutory and case law as to definitions and standards for a “substantial change in circumstances” for a particular case. The change must be “material, must not have been contemplated at the time of entry of final judgment, and must be permanent,” as these terms are defined in the statutes and case law. See Enforcing Agreements, Orders and Judgments in this web site link:
Enforcing Agreements, Orders & Judgments

There are other legal standards that can give rise to a substantial change in circumstances such as increase in certain material needs of the children, special medical needs of a child, and other case-specific situations. Changes to contact and parenting issues have to be in the best interests of the child. This includes changes in contact schedules and relocation of a child or children as “relocation” is defined in the Florida Statutes (moving more than fifty miles from the residence you had at the time of the entry of the orders regarding the contact pattern for your children.) See Child Custody & Contact & Relocation section of this web site link:
Child Custody & Contact & Relocation

Question(s): What does someone need to do to change something in a final judgment or a settlement agreement that has been made a court order? And, how do they go about doing that, and how much will it cost to hire an attorney to do it?
Answer(s): Assuming a substantial change in circumstances will be met, the answers depend on what needs to be changed and whether the other side is going to agree or disagree with the proposed change(s). Usually a supplemental petition for modification is filed. The supplemental petition requires essentially the same documents to be filed that were filed in the original case: petition, financial affidavit, summons, Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act Affidavit (UCCJEA), Certificate of Compliance with Mandatory Disclosure (that required documents under Florida Family Law Rule 12.285 have been copied and served on the othe party). If the parties agree in advance, then a stipulation or settlement agreement can be drafted and the process is fairly simple. If there isn’t an agreement soon after the supplemental petition is filed and served on the other party, then the parties must attend mediation (a type of settlement conference) to try to get a settlement agreement. If no settlement is reached, the case proceeds, ultimately the parties having to go before the judge to decide the issue of whether to allow the change or changes, unless the parties reach an out-of-court settlement prior to trial.

Cost to hire an Attorney: If the parties agree to the change, then the cost to hire an attorney to represent the person in the matter is probably going to be much less than if the issues become contested. Contested issues in a case must be resolved by going to court and having a hearing before a judge or magistrate to decide the contested issues at a trial. The procedures to prepare for and attend a trial usually add attorney’s fees and litigation costs that will exceed what the expense will be if the parties resolve all the issues by settlement agreement.

Even if the parties agree to a change or changes, they should still seek legal representation because a person should be concerned that the agreed changes are worded correctly and that he or she knows all the legal consequences and legal effects that will happen when the proposed changes become orders of the court and legally binding on him or her.

Litigants should be aware that changes to previously-ordered child support or alimony (both reductions and increases) are usually retroactive only to the date of filing in court for the change. When initially establishing child support, the court may go back 24 months.

Question: Who pays attorney’s fees in regard to modification actions?
Answer: Generally, each party will initially pay his and her own attorney fees and court costs. Later, the judge may rule that one party has the ability to contribute toward the attorney fees and costs of the other party based on the need of one party and the ability of the other party to pay, regardless of who initiated the modification action. There may be something in a final judgment or settlement agreement about the prevailing (winning) party paying the attorney fees and costs of the losing party, if a certain change is sought, but this is not a usual provision as to changes to an agreement. The provision for the losing party to have to pay the attorney’s fees and court costs of the winning party usually occurs when one party has to file a motion for contempt or to otherwise take legal action to enforce court orders.

This information is not to be used as legal advice.
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