The terminology commonly associated with divorce decrees can leave people feeling confused and disempowered. Many people will refer to the documents approved in the last hearings of your divorce as the final orders or decree in the divorce.
When it comes to asset division, it is true that the process is generally concluded with the final hearings, barring one spouse's discovery of illegally hidden assets or similar issues later. However, when it comes to your parental responsibilities and rights, the potential always exists for you to make changes to the specific tone in the final orders.
It is possible for you to handle such changes either informally or formally, although formal changes are highly recommended to best protect you and your role in the lives of your children.
Informal changes involve an agreement between former spouses
If you and your former spouse see one another constantly to exchange custody, you may be willing to work together when it comes to changing certain parenting time issues or maintenance amounts.
You could informally agree to change the way that you divide parenting time by negotiating, but doing so could leave you at risk of enforcement actions later on if things become contentious. When it comes to the amount of maintenance or child support that you pay, particularly if you agree to reduce it in any way, informal agreements will not suffice to protect you from enforcement action.
You can informally agree to increase what you pay or to continue paying after the court-ordered child support ends, such as to help pay for college. However, informal agreements to reduce the amount will not reduce what the state of Illinois expects you to pay, meaning you may become liable for the difference at some point in the future.
Formal changes require modification hearings
To officially and formally change either the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities or the amount of support that you pay after the courts finalize your divorce, you will need to request a modification hearing in the Illinois family courts.
If you and your ex both agree to specific terms, an uncontested modification is often straightforward, provided that the courts don't believe your decisions infringe on the rights of the child. In the situation where you and your ex don't agree on terms, a formal modification is likely necessary whether you want to increase the number of hours you spend with your child each week or reduce your child support payments.
Like any important family law hearing, modifications require preparation and evidence, but they are a viable option for those who want to update or change the terms of the final decree in their Illinois divorce.