Don’t Misinterpret or Overlook Your Post-Dissolution Performance Obligations

 Whether your divorce took several weeks to finalize or a few months to several years, once the Judge signs your Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage, your role as a party to a divorce action is not over. You should take time to review the signed final judgment and make sure that it contains accurate information as litigated or as mediated or otherwise negotiated and reduced to a written agreement which then was incorporated into your final judgment.

If you notice any erroneous information in your final judgment, you must take immediate steps to rectify such inaccuracies. Although the courts in Florida favor finality of judgments, especially in family law contexts, Fla. Fam. L. R. P. 12.540 and Rule 1.540(b) of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure provide the mechanism on which to base your motion to set aside the final judgment. However, even if you establish a basis for relief under Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.540(b), you still must seek such relief within one year since the entry of your final judgment of dissolution of marriage.

On the other hand, if your final judgment is correct but imposes certain obligations to be performed by you within a set time-frame, make sure you abide by those time-frames and thereby avoid having your former spouse take you back to court on enforcement issues.

In the event your final judgment is silent as to when those certain obligations must be performed by you, don’t wait until your former spouse files a motion to enforce that final judgment asking the court to sanction you for not complying with the terms of the final judgment, including having you pay all the fees and costs your ex has incurred during the enforcement proceedings.

So go ahead and sign that quitclaim deed, cooperate in changing titles to cars, boats and other vehicles; go ahead and ensure that your former spouse receives the awarded share of your retirement plan.

If you are required to make child support payments, make sure you fully understand how the payments must be made, i.e., either directly to the other parent or pursuant to an income deduction order. You don’t want to start accruing an arrearage and risk suspension of your driver’s license, destruction of your credit and even incarceration for nonpayment simply because you misunderstood the logistics of how those payments are to be made.

Go ahead and take time to understand not just how much you will have to pay but how the payments must be submitted and to whom. If there is something you don’t understand, then speak up and make all the necessary inquiries prior to the entry of the final judgment. Don’t wait until after the final judgment is signed by the Judge to make those inquiries as once the judgment is signed the court expects you to fully comply with all the provisions of your final judgment.

Even if your child support obligation will be satisfied through an income deduction order, it usually takes some time for your employer to start garnishing your pay towards your child support obligation. Consequently, your first support obligation is usually made directly to the other parent. When making that direct payment to your former spouse, make sure that you retain proof of that payment in case you need to refute a claim of nonpayment. You may want to either directly deposit that payment or mail that payment via certified mail, return receipt requested. Sometimes rather than paying directly to your former spouse, you may be asked to pay through the State Disbursement Unit. If that is the case, make sure you receive and fully understand the payment procedure when paying through the State Disbursement Unit. Again, such procedure should be obtained and understood prior to the entry of your final judgment.

Now that you have complied with all your obligations as provided in your final judgment and you are making your support payments, you should be in great shape to start rebuilding your life and look forward to many new and exciting experiences and challenges that lie ahead.

However, as we all know, life is full of surprises. Sometimes rather than have you move on with your life, life throws you a curveball and things go from bad to worse. For example, the unthinkable happens — you lose your job security. Although at the time of the entry of your final judgment your job was secure, all of a sudden your employer is downsizing and you are facing a layoff or a cut in pay.

If that is the case, you should continue to make your requisite support payments, whether these are child support and/or spousal support payments. If in fact you have been laid off or your pay was cut, you should immediately seek a modification of your support obligation all the while continuing to make the requisite support payments until there is a new order in place modifying your original support obligation.

Generally, in order to seek modification of your child support and/or spousal support obligation(s), there must be a substantial change in circumstances since the entry of the final judgment. In particular, when you are seeking to modify an alimony/spousal support award in order to decrease it, you must show how you have experienced an involuntary and permanent decrease in income or that your former spouse, the receiving party, no longer has the need for the current support.

When it comes to modifying child support in order to decrease your child support obligation, you must show how you have undergone an involuntary, unforeseen, and permanent change in income. As child support is generally determined by the use of the set child support guidelines, you should use these same child support guidelines when seeking a modification.

On the other hand, if you are a recipient of the spousal support award and you wish to increase that support, you will have to show the court how your needs have increased and how your former spouse has the ability to pay you this increased support.

If you are contemplating on seeking an increase in child support, you should be ready to show how an increase is justified due to your former spouse’s increased income and/or how your income, the recipient’s income, has decreased. Again, use the child support guidelines in support of your petition for an upward modification.