Lori R. Holyfield Attorney at Law

An Advocate Through Life's Transitions


When will a court in Tennessee change a previous order?  What do I have to prove to get a modification?

"Change is the only constant in life."  -Heraclitus

A court order remains in effect until another court order changes, or modifies, it.  Therefore, generally speaking, willfully disobeying a court order that is currently in place is considered contempt of court, even if you feel the order was wrong.  With that said, court orders are not diamonds, and they do not necessarily have to be forever...particularly if circumstances have changed so significantly that an order is no longer workable, fair, and/or in the best interests of a minor child.

Modification of a court order is often more complicated and less predictable than setting the initial order.  This is at least in part because parties who are divorced or no longer living together don't know as much about the other's financial situation and lack the common goal of pushing toward divorce.  Furthermore, in the case of child support or alimony, petitioning for modification is fraught with risk.  As one example, you may think you are entitled to a decrease in child support, but in the process of you attempting to demonstrate to the court that a change should be made, your ex may discover that the child support amount should actually be increased.  For that reason and many others, contacting an attorney prior to filing is a really good idea.

Child custody, child support, and sometimes alimony can be modified if you can prove that there has been a material change in circumstances.  If you think you have a material change, you should discuss the situation with an attorney. 

For child custody purposes, what is considered "material" depends on the specific facts of your case and whether you are seeking to change which parent is the Primary Residential Parent or simply to change the residential schedule.  For child support purposes, a change in the child support obligation of at least 15% according to the Income Shares Worksheet is usually considered material; if one of the parties is low-income, the threshold is set lower at a 7.5% change.  The justifications for modifying alimony are complex.  It depends on what type of alimony was awarded, and whether the parties made any agreements about what would justify modification or not.   Property division is generally not modifiable, but there are exceptions, so you should consult with an attorney if you think you might like to seek modification of the division of your debts and assets.

Lori R. Holyfield focuses her practice in divorce and family law and serves Shelby, Tipton, and Fayette Counties in southwest Tennessee.

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