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Modifying or enforcing a divorce decree in Wisconsin: An overview

Many of the terms of your divorce can be modified, but you will have to show that circumstances have changed in order to justify a modification.

The De Beers company may be right that a diamond is forever, but so is a divorce. In many cases, the finalization of a divorce does not mean that all related matters are tidily concluded once and for all. Parties may have to return to court to ask a judge to enforce or modify the divorce decree.

Substantial change in circumstances required for modification

People seek divorce modifications for a wide variety of reasons. But if you are no longer satisfied with the terms of your divorce decree, you should know what can, and cannot, be the subject of a modification.

Under Wisconsin law, property division orders are final. Once you have split up the marital property, absent very unusual circumstances, you cannot change the property division arrangement.

On the other hand, child support, custody, placement and maintenance orders can be changed post-judgment in certain circumstances. In order to obtain a modification, you must show the court that since the original decree was issued or last order made, there has been a substantial change in circumstances.

To justify a modification, the change in circumstances must be truly significant. For example, a meaningful change in the employment status or income of one or both former spouses may be enough to make a case for modification of a maintenance order.

Modifying child custody arrangements can present particular challenges in Wisconsin. Unless both parents agree to change the placement schedule, if less than two years have passed since the original judgment was entered, the parent seeking the modification must show that the current placement schedule is actually physically or emotionally harmful to the child.

After two years have passed, the moving party only has to show a substantial change in circumstances, and then the court will consider whether a modification is in the best interests of the child or children. Absent an agreement between the parties, it is rare for a Wisconsin court to modify child custody and placement orders within two years of a divorce.

Judges can get creative in enforcing compliance

In some instances, the terms of child support, custody, placement and maintenance are satisfactory as ordered, but a party is not living up to them in reality. In this type of case, a motion may be filed with the court to force the party who is in violation of the terms to come into compliance through a finding of contempt.

If the issue is lack of payment of child support or spousal maintenance, the court may garnish wages or order that payment be made in some other way. If the issue is failure to comply with a placement order, the court can step in to enforce the placement schedule, with the possibility of awarding time to make up for past violations.

The court has a great deal of discretion in enforcing compliance with a divorce decree. Creative options may be available depending on the situation. Penalties may also result, including attorney fee awards, financial sanctions and even jail time, if one party will not comply.

Get in touch with a Wisconsin family law attorney

Do you need help modifying or enforcing a divorce decree? An experienced Wisconsin family law attorney can give you the best chance at getting the results you want. Contact a lawyer today to get the ball rolling on your modification.

Keywords: Divorce, modification, change