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What Makes a Divorce Decree Invalid?

Two broken golden wedding rings divorce decree document. Divorce and separation concept

A divorce decree in Illinois may be invalid if the judge made decisions based on wrong information or erred in interpreting or applying state law. For example, if one party proffered a much lower income as the basis for child support payments and the judge made a decision based on that income threshold, that might be grounds for appeal. Judges using evidence that was incorrect, insufficient, or legally inadmissible could also be what makes a divorce decree invalid. A recording obtained illegally is one example of this.

Two broken golden wedding rings divorce decree document. Divorce and separation concept

What Makes a Divorce Decree Invalid in Illinois?

A divorce decree could be invalid if a judge’s decisions were based on incorrect information or if the judge made errors affecting the outcome. If one party concealed assets or debts from the other, that could be grounds for appeal or modification. Divorce decrees can be invalid no matter the areas of contention, be they child support, visitation, property division, spousal support, or something else.

Can You Appeal a Divorce Decree?

You can appeal a divorce decree if you believe the judge acted on false information, misinterpreted the law, or used legally inadmissible evidence. In Illinois, you have 30 days within the issuance of the divorce decree to appeal.

Your appeal must explain what mistakes you perceive in the decree and why. The three judges on the appellate court may rule that the decree is correct as it is, or determine that the decree is partly or fully in error. In cases of error, lower courts retry the case.

If your trial judge made an error, it does not necessarily follow that you should appeal the decree. Some errors are legally “harmless.” The error must have been prejudicial or have unduly affected the outcome. Moreover, you cannot appeal any findings you agreed with. For example, if the judge’s error benefited you, and you agreed with it at the time, you cannot appeal that finding in hopes of a retrial. Your lawyer can help clarify whether any errors a judge made could pave the way for an appeal of the divorce decree.

What If Your Ex Refuses to Follow the Divorce Decree?

Divorce Attorney Denise Erlich

After both parties receive their divorce decree, they should obey the terms of it. Some of the more pressing obligations may pertain to debt, child support, spousal support, and insurance policies. If your ex is not complying with the decree, let your divorce lawyer know and bring your ex back to court. Keep following your own obligations, even if your ex is not following his or her responsibilities. Both of you might be responsible for things such as changing wills, changing beneficiaries, updating emergency contacts, changing power of attorney, canceling or changing credit cards, and making bank accounts into one person’s name.

You can also return to court if your needs, or your child’s needs or circumstances, change. For example, if you require more spousal support or child support—whether your circumstances change or your ex is not upholding his or her obligations, you can return to court to seek a post-decree modification. Your lawyer may file a contempt action if the original divorce order needs to be enforced.

These scenarios serve as examples of when you might appeal the divorce decree or seek enforcement of the divorce decree:

  • Your ex is not paying child support.
  • Your ex is not paying spousal support.
  • You find out that your ex concealed debts or assets.
  • You discover that your ex withheld information he or she should have produced.

A post-decree modification based on changing circumstances could be due to one parent moving to a new location or experiencing a significant change in financial status. Similarly, parental alienation or complications with the parenting plan could be grounds for modification.

How Do You Get a Post-Decree Modification?

Sometimes, it does not take much to necessitate a post-decree modification. Take the issue of spousal support, sometimes called spousal maintenance or alimony. One spouse’s job loss, job demotion or promotion, arrest, substance abuse, or mental health could precipitate modification.

To get a post-decree modification, speak with your divorce lawyer and furnish any necessary information. Your lawyer will take the case to court, where a judge considers the details. He or she assesses if one of the parties is unlawfully trying to dodge responsibilities, or if the changes are worth considering.

Common areas for post-decree modification include child support order enforcement, child support order modification, parental responsibility, and parenting time (child custody arrangements). Changes to custody or visitation schedules might be necessary if the child becomes heavily involved with sports or other activities that do not mesh with the parenting time plan.

In some cases, it is possible to set the groundwork for modifying a divorce decree without needing a judge to determine the changes. If both parties agree on the changes, your lawyer can draw up the paperwork for the judge’s final approval.

A Common Mistake With Post-Decree Modifications

One mistake people make with post-decree modifications is not clearing them with the court. Suppose the children stay with your ex 70% of the time, and you pay $X amount of child support per month. Your ex’s mother develops serious health issues, and your ex wants to leave the state for one year to care for her. Both you and your ex agree for the children to live with you full time during that year. You believe you will not have to pay child support during this time. You do not file anything with the court. So far, so good? No.

Side agreements often go well, but sometimes they do cause trouble. Here are three possible outcomes (out of many). In one scenario, your ex comes back, you resume your prior agreement, and all is well. In another scenario, your ex returns and agrees to 50-50 parenting time, no one paying child support, and all is OK. In a third scenario, your ex returns, the children go back with him or her, and he or she tells the court you have not been paying child support and have violated divorce agreements.

Technically, he or she could be right. As long as you never filed anything with the court updating the agreement, the reality is that you have not been paying child support. Despite the children living with you during that time, you were technically obligated to pay. The safest route is to always file for a post-decree modification. They can be straightforward when both parties agree on the terms, and will save a lot of trouble down the road.

What Does the Divorce Decree Decide?

A divorce decree contains information about spousal support, child support, property division, debt division, custody, visitation, and other divorce matters. Divorce decrees even contain details on which party is responsible for obtaining health and life insurance, and if any of the parties are changing their name. If you are worried whether you are obligated to pay for your spouse’s debt, the divorce decree outlines your responsibilities (or lack thereof).

There are many approaches to divorce dispute resolution. Mediation, collaborative divorce, and litigation (with trial) are common approaches. Divorce trials can be time-consuming and expensive. Many couples prefer to try dissolving their marriage through other methods first.

A judge has the final say on the terms and decisions in a divorce decree. Alternatively, both parties may have settled their case without a trial. The settlement agreement contains the terms of their agreement. It does not contain any input from a judge, but does have a judge’s approval.

Divorce settlements and divorce decrees touch on many issues. They explain where the children will live, who makes decisions about their healthcare, education, and religion, how many nights they stay at each parent’s house, and where they spend vacations and holidays. Settlements and decrees outline if one spouse pays the other child support, who takes care of health insurance, healthcare, and child care costs, and who covers school and extracurricular expenses.

Spousal maintenance factors include the length of marriage, whether one spouse needs alimony and if the other has the ability to provide it, and both spouses’ financial positions. It considers the spouses’ future earnings, any health conditions they have that could affect earnings, and how much time a spouse needing maintenance would need to become financially stable and independent through training, education, or job experience.

A lot of considerations go into settlements, decrees, and what makes a divorce decree invalid (or valid). That is why just one asset or piece of information concealed, whether intentionally or unintentionally, can greatly change things.

If your ex is not following the divorce settlement or decree, you or your lawyer should file a court motion for enforcement. For the court to enforce it and possibly penalize your ex, you must have proof of the violations.

Uncontested divorce lawyer Denise Erlich is passionate about helping divorcing couples in the greater Chicagoland area transition to their new life as seamlessly as possible. Ms. Erlich patiently guides her clients through every step of the divorce process and provides clients with candid advice about their case and legal options, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

Years of Experience: More than 20 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
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