Here’s an article Aaron Pollack, a tax fraud attorney at our sister website. Once a divorce is finalized, a spouse does have some options for amending or appealing the divorce judgment. In order to appeal or amend successfully, the spouse must go through the appropriate legal process and have appropriate legal grounds for an appeal or amendment. The grounds, the original reason for a divorce, is outlined in the original petition or filing for divorce. The initiating spouse may at any time choose to amend the grounds for divorce before it is finalized with little hassle. Once the divorce has been finalized, however, it becomes much more difficult to change anything about the judgment, including the grounds for divorce.
Consider Your Reasoning
If you wish to change the grounds for divorce after it is finalized, it is important to consider exactly why you want to do this. When it comes to divorce grounds, there are only two significant differences: fault or no-fault. The vast majority of divorces in the modern day are no-fault divorces because they are easier and you do not need to prove fault. Many states still have the option to file a fault-based divorce, but all states have the option for a no-fault divorce of some kind, and a handful of states have only no-fault divorce laws.
If you originally filed a fault-based divorce and were able to settle it, then there is a good chance the divorce worked out in your favor. Fault-based divorces tend to reward the initiating spouse and punish the spouse found to be at fault. It is likely not in your best interests to change this situation from a fault to no-fault divorce.
If you are the at-fault spouse, on the other hand, then you may wish to appeal the divorce decision or attempt to change the grounds for divorce to a no-fault divorce because the divorce terms will likely be better for you. You would have to be prepared to argue that you are not at fault and prove it. Understand that if the divorce is already finalized, then you have already been found at fault and would need to have a substantial change in argument or evidence to prove otherwise.
Reasons to Amend the Divorce
Beyond questions of divorce grounds, there are several reasons why a spouse may wish to amend a divorce agreement after it has been finalized. These are specific legal scenarios. Keep in mind that amending a divorce agreement is hard, and you must come prepared with a strong argument. Simply saying you are unhappy with the results or feel the divorce was not fair is not good enough.
The first reason is due to improper understanding or disclosure of assets. The asset division process could be considered unfair if all assets were not disclosed during the process. For example, if you found out your spouse was hiding a vacation home or an overseas account after the final judgment. You could petition for these assets to be divided.
The second major reason is a significant change in circumstances for either your or your spouse that warrant a change in the divorce agreement. For example, if you discovered your spouse was involved with drugs or other illegal behavior after the divorce, you could argue for a change in the custody or visitation orders.
Appealing the Divorce
If you want to significantly change a divorce judgment, you can appeal the entire divorce decision. All trial court decisions can be appealed to a higher court, but it is rare for the appellate court to reverse a lower court on a divorce judgment. The strongest arguments in appeal are related to the legality of the trial and whether proper legal procedure was followed.
If you or your attorney believe that the judgment went against you due to an improper following of the law during the trial, then you may have solid grounds for appeal. The greatest advantage of the appeal compared to a modification is that it takes place in a different court with a different judge who may see the circumstances of your divorce differently and rule more in your favor.
Attempting to change the grounds for a divorce or change a divorce judgment after it is finalized is not an easy process, but it can be done. You will want to consult with your attorney about your reasoning and what arguments you have that may change the court’s decision.