Your divorce decree may address issues like child support, child custody and spousal support, but the decree may become outdated as your circumstances change. In Wisconsin, it is often possible to modify your divorce decree, but it is difficult to do so after just five months since you’ll have to show the court there has been a significant change in circumstances since the decree was issued. Further, if you are attempting to change child custody, you must show the current conditions are physically or emotionally harmful to your child.
A Wisconsin court will not order a change in child custody within two years of the original custody order unless you can show that the current situation is physically or emotionally harmful to your child. However, you and your ex-spouse can agree to change the order at any time. Your agreement must be submitted to the court for approval before it is legally binding. If at least two years have passed since your divorce decree or most recent child custody order was issued, you may ask the court for modification if there is a substantial change in circumstances that prompts a change and it's in your child’s best interests. For example, if one parent has changed jobs and moved far away, the original custody order may no longer be appropriate. Similarly, if one parent has remarried and the child prefers to spend more time with his new step-siblings, the court could order a change.
When your child custody arrangements change, your child support amounts may need to change as well, or your child support amounts may be the only needed modification. To change child support, you must show there is a substantial change in circumstances, such as a significant increase or decrease in a parent’s income or a substantial change in the needs of your child. For example, if you lost your job or if your child suddenly has increased medical expenses, a modification may be appropriate. The court presumes there has been a substantial change in circumstances if it has been at least 33 months since your last order or if a modification would create a change of at least 15 percent and $50 per month.
Alimony, also called maintenance or spousal support, can also be changed when necessary. However, you cannot receive alimony if you waived it at the time of your divorce, except in extreme or unusual circumstances. Like child support and custody, before the court will modify your alimony award, you must prove your circumstances have changed. During a modification case, the court generally considers the factors it used to make its original decision, such as the length of your marriage as well as the health, age, education level, and work experience of you and your ex-spouse.
Obtaining a Modification
You can request a modification of your divorce decree by filing a motion with your local court, usually the court that issued your original divorce decree. Once the motion is filed, you must serve a copy on your ex-spouse to give him an opportunity to respond. After his response, the court may schedule a hearing to listen to both sides of the issue. If you only need to modify child support, you can obtain help from your local child support agency instead of filing for modification on your own.