Editing a Final Divorce Order – Can I do it?

Typically, a Final Order of Divorce in Virginia resolves all of the issues between spouses. Typically, twenty-one days after the Order is entered, it can no longer be amended.  There are, of course, certain exceptions. 

 The most common exceptions relate to custody and visitation provisions of the children of the divorced couple.  In these circumstances, where there has been a material change in circumstances, the Court has the right to look at whether or not the custody/visitation provision should be changed.  These material changes often involve the ability of one of the parents to care for the children, or major changes for the children themselves.  There are a wide variety of reasons that a Court can find that there is a material change that would allow the Judge to change the portion of the Final Order of Divorce that relates to custody and visitation.

 Child support and spousal support (referred to in other states as “alimony”) can also be changed in certain circumstances.  Child support can be changed if there are major changes in income, significant increases or decreases in child care costs, significant increases in cost of health insurance, or other factors, including substantial recurring medical expenses.  In certain circumstances spousal support can also be modified if there has been a major change in the income or expenses of the parties.  In each child support and spousal support cases there are unique factors that would allow a court to modify its prior Order.

 Generally, a court’s rulings as to the division of assets and debts become final, and not subject to change twenty-one days after the Final Order of Divorce is signed by the Judge.  There are traditional means of asking to change the Judge’s Final Order, including asking the Judge to reconsider his ruling, if done before twenty-one days have passed.  Additionally, appeals to Appellate Courts sometimes allow changes to the Final Order, if they are timely filed. 

 This means that a Final Order of Divorce is generally not subject to change in reference to the assets, debts, retirement accounts, or other joint items between the parties.  A recent case from the Court of Appeals of Virginia, however, did open up a small window where certain changes or rulings can be made in relation to the assets and debts even after the Final Order is entered.  In the unpublished ruling in the case of Pope v. Pope, the Court of Appeals noted that the trial Judge would have the right to reopen evidence for the purpose of clarifying the Court’s original Order.  In the Pope case, the Judge’s Order called for the wife to receive a timeshare and be responsible for the expense relating to that timeshare.  The Judge did not, however, make a finding as to the specific amount of the remaining expense related to the timeshare.  When the wife failed to make payment on a debt in the husband’s name, that related to the timeshare, the husband asked the Judge to enforce his Order against the wife.  The Trial Court Judge ultimately decided that he did not have authority to change the Final Order and therefore might be limited in his ability to enforce the provision that was supposed to cause the wife to make payment on the expenses related to the timeshare.

 The husband’s appeal to the Court of Appeals of Virginia was successful.  The Court of Appeals directed that the trial Judge make modifications to his original ruling to identify the specific amount of debt that the wife was responsible for paying.  Although this was not a major change in the Court’s ruling, it did verify that a trial Judge has the right to reopen a divorce case to make a determination of specific responsibilities that fall generally within the Judge’s prior Order.  Thus, in this case, the trial Judge was directed to take evidence, create a specific ruling as to the amount that the wife actually owed in relation to the timeshare, and, arguably, what the scope of those expenses would be.

 It is unusual that a trial Judge has the opportunity to modify the Final Order of Divorce in relation to the parties’ assets and debts.  Pope v. Pope created an exception to that rule. 

 If you have an issue where the Final Order of Divorce in your case was not specific as to the responsibilities of each party, it would benefit you to speak to an experienced Fredericksburg Divorce Lawyer.  Making sure that your Virginia Equitable Distribution and Final Order of Divorce are accurate is always important.  If you need the assistance of a Spotsylvania Family Lawyer, please call Jarrell, Hicks & Waldman, at 540-582-5300.

 *This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice in your individual matter and should not be relied upon as such.  The success of each case is dependent upon the merits of the claims made and the evidence available and presented. 

 

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