Can I Amend My Divorce for the Court to Reserve Jurisdiction in California?

By Lauren Browne

In California, the court can modify support and custody orders after a divorce decree has been entered if the requesting party can show a material change of circumstances. But a court cannot modify property division orders unless the parties asked in the final judgment for the court to retain jurisdiction for that purpose. In most cases, the court will also refuse to modify a spousal support waiver after the divorce is final.

Modification of Child Custody and Child Support

In California, the divorce court will automatically retain jurisdiction over child support or child custody orders until they can no longer be enforced -- usually until the child is 18 if she's graduated high school, or 19 if she's still a high school student. If you and the other parent agree in your divorce order to pay support until your child graduates college, the court can modify that order as well. But if you want the court to change the custody or support order, you must show a material change of circumstances. For example, maybe one of you has gotten a big promotion or has lost a job.

Modification of Spousal Support

In the case of spousal support, the court will retain jurisdiction to modify or terminate a support order until the time the judgment specifies. For example, if your judgment says you will pay your ex-spouse $500 a month for five years, the court will retain its power to change the order for a period of five years. As with child support, to modify the spousal support order during those five years, you must show a material change of circumstances. It is typical in California divorce judgments for both parties to waive spousal support altogether. If your judgment contains an express waiver of support, the court cannot modify that at a later date.

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Modification of Property Orders

Generally, the court will not modify a property order after a judgment is entered, but it still has the power to enforce the order. For example, if your ex-spouse won't transfer the house to you as agreed, you may need to go back to court for a court order for her to do so. The court also has the power to modify a property judgment if one party lied to or defrauded the other party, such as hiding assets. If you find out a year after your judgment that your ex-husband hid two pensions from you during the divorce proceedings, you can ask the court to modify the property division to award the pensions to you.

How to Amend Your Judgment

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to ask the court to modify the terms of your divorce judgment, you have two options. You could simply ask your ex to agree to the modification, but if he will not agree to your request, you can file a post-judgment motion asking the court for an order to modify the terms. You file a motion detailing your change of circumstances, and the court will hold a hearing on your request that it will either grant or deny.

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