Divorce agreements cover many details, including child custody, child support, property division, health insurance and many other specifics based on the details of a family’s life. The difficulty is that at the time a divorce agreement is ruled upon and issued, it’s impossible to foresee all future circumstances. Therefore, it’s often necessary to return to court for a divorce modification. Massachusetts’ law allows for these changes, but only for certain provisions and under certain circumstances.
Merging Vs. Surviving Provisions
Divorce provisions are classified as “merging” or “surviving.” Merging means they can be modified at a later date if circumstances warrant the change. Examples of merging provisions might include child custody or support, college education payments, health benefits or alimony. Surviving provisions are ones that do not change. For example, a divorce agreement may stipulate property division. Which spouse gets the family home? Who keeps the vacation home or timeshare? Or, the agreement may call for all property to be sold and divided evenly. These provisions are “surviving.” They cannot be modified.
Change of Circumstances
Merging provisions can be modified if a change in circumstances occurs. Most of these changes involve monetary support or child custody. For example, the supporting spouse may lose a job and have to take a lower paying one. Alimony would be adjusted accordingly. Conversely, a raise in pay for the supporting spouse would merit a change in alimony or child support. A change in income may cause parents to rethink who pays for college tuition. If a spouse moves out of the area, child custody will need to be readdressed. If one parent has better health benefits, a change in who carries the child’s health insurance might make sense.
Each family is different and divorce agreements are unique. It’s best to speak with an experienced family law attorney to understand what aspects of your agreement can be modified.