The judgment entry filed at the conclusion of a divorce case is often referred to as the “final” decree. In some respects, the order ending the divorce process does finalize the issues between spouses. In other respects, however, the final decree leaves open issues that might arise. Some final orders are not only subject to the continuing jurisdiction of the domestic relations court to enforce, but perhaps, to modify.
Once the trial court finds grounds for and grants a divorce, the only ways to attack the order is through an appeal or a motion to vacate the judgment. The court does not have continuing jurisdiction to modify the granting of a divorce to one or both of the parties. Child support and parental rights and responsibilities orders, on the other hand, are subject to modification during the minority of the children. A change of circumstances justifying modification must be shown. I discussed change of circumstances relating to child support in an article entitled “Child support modification” published November 26, 2012, and will be discussing change of circumstances relating to parental rights and responsibilities in a future the article. .
Traditionally, property division orders were not subject to modification no matter a change of circumstances or the wishes of the parties. A recent amendment to the Ohio property division statute now allows a court to modify a property division order if the modification is requested through an agreement of the parties. Absent an agreement, the trial court still lacks continuing jurisdiction to modify a property division order.
Spousal support orders may be modified, both as to term and amount, if the court retained jurisdiction to do so in its original divorce decree. The party seeking the modification or termination must present proof of a substantial change of circumstances. According to the latest amendment to the Ohio spousal support statute, the change must be one that “makes the existing award no longer reasonable and appropriate, and the change in circumstances was not taken into account by the parties or the court as a basis for the existing award when it was established or last modified, whether or not the change in circumstances was foreseeable.”
While it is comforting to believe that when the initial divorce proceeding is over,all issues have been finally resolved, the reality is that in many respects the divorce process may not be final for many years.