Let’s assume a typical family unit: husband, wife, two kids, and a dog. The family lives in a nice, middle-class neighborhood in Arlington and Mansfield, Texas, with a home, two cars, and a few 401(k) retirement accounts from various career roles over the years.
Unfortunately, the marriage is in trouble and is heading toward divorce.
The divorce goes relatively smoothly. There are issues and disagreements to resolve, but the divorce is amicable. The parties agree to do what’s best for the children—to keep a sense of family continuity after the divorce, even though the family will no longer live under one roof. And they agree on issues like spousal support, which for two years the ex-husband pays on time and in full when due.
But then a mishap: the ex-husband is hurt on the job and can no longer afford to pay the same amount of spousal support, at least temporarily. What happens next?
Everything Changes but Change Itself
To quote or paraphrase the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, everything changes but change itself. In other words, we can depend on at least that in life. The circumstances that held during the divorce, at the time the decree was entered and the divorce finalized, may not continue to hold in the months and years afterward.
People get remarried. They have children. They go back to school. They find new jobs, out of town or even out of state. They get sick or injured, experience financial difficulty, and can no longer comply with the terms of the divorce decree, as described in our hypothetical scenario above.
What are your options when life happens?
Court orders are enforceable against the respective parties. Judges expect the parties to abide by the terms set forth in those orders, from how much you pay in spousal support to the specific, day-to-day responsibilities related to parenting, as outlined in custody and visitation agreements. That said, the law recognizes Heraclitus’s remarks about change and allows for post-divorce modifications in some circumstances.
Here are a few additional (and common) examples:
- As the children get older and more independent, their wants and needs will change.
- When an ex-spouse remarries, his or her financial needs may change.
- If an ex-spouse suffers a long-term disability and loss of income, his or her ability to pay spousal support will change.