If you ever meet with an attorney to discuss a possible general civil litigation case (e.g. contract dispute, personal injury, defamation, patent infringement, or any number of other types of cases) one of the first things the lawyer will do is research the facts to determine whether or not you even “have a case.” That is, do you even have actionable damages entitling you to compensation? Can you prove liability? Stated more simply, is your issue something that is worth spending time and money on? Even if everything you say is true, does the law even recognize this as a “cause of action” (to use a legal phrase)?
It’s a little different with divorces. The only real prerequisite you need to get divorced is that you are currently married. So, if you are married, and you want to get divorced, you indeed “have a case” and I can help you. (Minnesota is a no-fault divorce state, so all you really need to prove by law to get a divorce is that there has been “an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship.” If one spouse says that there has, in fact, been an “irretrievable breakdown,” then there has been, and as a practical matter, the other spouse is powerless to stop the divorce).
But, the same analysis does not apply to what we call “post-decree motions,” or attempts to make changes to the divorce decree after it is final. If you have kids, for example, the Court will maintain jurisdiction over the issues of child support, custody, and parenting time for so long as the kids are minors. If there was an award of spousal maintenance (and there was no Karon waiver – a topic for another blog) the Court will maintain jurisdiction over that issue, too. So, even though your divorce is considered “final” when the divorce decree is entered, you still have the ability to make changes to certain issues following the divorce.
Whether or not it is wise to make changes, however, is an entirely different question. You can’t make changes just because you want to. There must be a basis for it. You need to “have a case” for a post-decree motion. This usually requires that there be some type of “substantial change in circumstances” warranting a change.
But, again, before pulling the trigger on a post-decree motion, ask yourself if this is really what you want to do. Don’t just bring a post-decree motion on a whim because you are unhappy about something. Do a cost-benefit analysis. How much will the motion cost in attorney’s fees, and for how long will the requested relief be in place? Just as importantly, don’t take what you have in place for granted, and ask yourself how your ex-spouse will respond. If you bring a post-decree motion, it is entirely possible that your ex-spouse has an issue that they will want the Court to look at, too. You have to be prepared, then, to address your ex-spouse’s issues as well.
I had a case recently where the client wanted to make adjustments to child support. The facts warranted a modification, but by seeking changes to child support, this motivated her ex-husband to seek changes to parenting time. She did not want to address the parenting time issues, but her ex-husband did. In the end, she may have been willing to let the child support issue go if it meant not having to address the parenting time issues her ex-husband wanted to discuss.
One piece of advice I often give to clients is “Don’t go to court unless you absolutely have to.” Take a good look at what you currently have in place, and ask yourself how your ex-spouse is likely to respond, and question whether the relief you are seeking is worth all the time, money, and drama that a post-decree motion can bring. Don’t assume that something you currently have in place that you consider to be favorable will remain that way. Your ex-spouse may seek to change it.
Don’t interpret this blog as steering you away from post-decree motions. It might be entirely necessary and appropriate in your case. Just make sure you think things through before you decide to bring one.
Contact Beyer & Simonson
If you are facing divorce and any of the divorce-related issues such as spousal maintenance, child support, child custody, property division, or domestic abuse matters, you need our experienced Minneapolis divorce attorneys to help you. Contact Beyer & Simonson in Edina, Minnesota today at (952) 303-6007.