Divorce Decree Modifications in Arizona: What to Know


If you are currently pursuing divorce, you’ll need to become familiar with a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage and what that means.

A Decree of Dissolution of Marriage, also known as a divorce decree, is a document that, when signed by a judge, officially finalizes a divorce. Two spouses are not considered legally divorced until the judge signs the decree and files it with the clerk’s office. This document can only be signed once issues like child custody, child support, and divisions of debts and assets are resolved between both parties and addressed in the document.

However, a dissolution of marriage decree is the starting point for your post-divorce arrangements, living situations can change. If either party has a significant change to their lifestyle, it may call for the decree to need to be altered or amended in order to reflect your current living situation.

That said, a dissolution of marriage decree remains in effect as it is written unless it is officially modified in a subsequent proceeding. To get a modification, one must petition the court for a modification of an existing decree of custody order, so it’s important to understand how this process works and how to navigate it.

Why Modify a Divorce Decree?

A divorce decree lays out the formal terms of a divorce, like property division, child custody, child support, and more. The Arizona Supreme Court decided that either party in a divorce may decide to modify a divorce decree in order to pursue an adjustment to the arrangements laid out in the original document. Either party may decide to modify a divorce decree as lifestyle needs change and the original terms of the agreement are no longer reasonable.

Parties to custody and support orders often feel overwhelmed as they experience changes in their life circumstances. These changes can include children growing older and no longer needing the arrangement they once had, or other living conditions that change – such as remarriage.To prevent the terms laid out in a divorce decree from becoming ineffective and burdensome on either party, it’s up to the parties involved to keep the court aware and up-to-date on current living circumstances and seek adjustments to arrangements as they see fit.

To pursue a modification, you must file a formal petition with the court that initially oversaw your divorce. Each county offers modification forms that you can file with the court.

If you are seeking to modify a divorce decree, it’s a good idea to consult a family law attorney who can provide some guidance and support in the process and ensure you follow the appropriate procedures.

What Changes Call for Modification?

Typically, the biggest lifestyle changes that call for modification are overall lifestyle changes, and there are a variety of changes that can do this. Although there is a nearly unlimited number of reasons for modification, some of the most common examples include:

  • Losing a job or losing significant work hours
  • Losing health insurance and other benefits
  • Becoming disabled or incapacitated
  • Remarrying to a new spouse

Generally, , any major life change that affects the personal and financial stability of either party may affect the current arrangements and provide enough justification for modification.

Other reasons for post-divorce modifications include neglect or failure to disclose pertinent information during the divorce process. If, for example, one spouse withheld financial information or assets during the divorce process, this could result in future modifications if the information came to light.

Modifications can also be made if a termination of support is necessary, which may be the case if a child has emancipated, or one party has entered into a new financial situation that does not require the other party to provide support.

What Aspects of a Decree Can Be Modified?

Although both parties have the right to petition for a modification to a divorce decree, they cannot modify just any aspect of the decree. Aspects of the dissolution of marriage decree that can be modified include:

  • Child support
  • Spousal maintenance
  • Legal custody
  • Parenting time

Courts are ordinarily reluctant to modify a custody order unless both parents agree to the change, or one parent becomes incapacitated or abuses the child.

Parenting time orders are somewhat easier to modify than legal custody orders; however, these changes are also easiest to make if both parents agree to them.

Keep in mind that property and debt division are generally not subject to modification. However, if you are considering this option, you should consult an attorney to determine whether you have a case.

The Divorce Decree Modification Process

If pursuing a divorce decree modification makes sense for your situation, it’s important to understand the process and how it works. Modifying a divorce decree involves the following steps.

1. Establishing the Grounds for Modification

As discussed, it’s important that you have established grounds for modifying a divorce decree based on the situations laid out above. If you are unsure whether you have grounds for a modification, you should consult a family law attorney who can provide guidance on your case and help you determine appropriate next steps.

2. Determining the Appropriate Court

After establishing grounds for your modification, you should ensure that you consult the appropriate court with jurisdiction over your case for your modification. In Arizona, the court that initially oversaw your divorce will also oversee your modification. For example, if you filed your divorce decree in Pinal County, you should also petition for modification in Pinal County.

3. File a Petition To Modify

To begin the formal modification process, you must file a petition to modify through the court that initially provided your divorce decree. This petition must detail the changes you are requesting and the reasons for requesting them.

When filing a petition, you must also serve a copy of the petition to your ex-spouse so they have an opportunity to respond to the petition.

4. Pursue Mediation

Before the court can consider a divorce decree modification, Arizona requires that both parties first attend a mediation session to resolve any issues surrounding the modification and determine whether a modification is truly the best path forward. A mediator will assist during the process and help to encourage an agreement that is in the best interests of the ex-spouses and any children involved.

If mediation does not lead to an agreement surrounding the conflict, then the court will schedule a hearing between both parties. At this hearing, both parties will have the opportunity to present evidence and provide a testimony outlining their position on their ideal arrangements.

5. Receive the Modified Decree

Finally, after filing the petition with the court and completing mediation, the court will issue a modified decree that includes the changes agreed upon by both parties. This new decree will set the terms for both parties and hold each side accountable for following the arrangement.

The Importance of Going Through the Court for Divorce Modifications

In some cases, if a lifestyle change occurs, two spouses may decide to discuss a change of terms to the divorce decree rather than pursue a formal modification through the court. However, this approach is often inadvisable as it comes with some potential risks.

Because divorce decrees have such an impact on each party’s personal and financial lives, it’s important to keep the court informed of each party’s situation, and to avoid arrangements that are financially damaging to either party.

Additionally, if modifications are made informally, as a verbal agreement between parties, this may not be legally enforceable, and any failure to heed to the original decree may result in additional legal issues. Informal agreements offer no legal protection if one party does not uphold their side of the arrangement, which could lead to financial harm for one party.

Operating outside of the terms of the original agreement could lead to consequences if one party decides to change their mind about the verbal agreement later on. Pursuing a decree through the court provides accountability to both parties. When a modification is carried out through the court, both parties are legally expected to follow through with the new terms of the agreement.

Get Help with Divorce Decree Modifications in Arizona

Situations may arise that require a change to the terms of an original divorce agreement, like those around child support or custody. Filing a petition for a divorce decree modification will allow you to make these changes, but it’s important to understand how to file this petition properly and navigate next steps—modifying any custody, parenting time or support order is always easier with the assistance of a qualified family law attorney.

At JacksonWhite Law, we pride ourselves on offering clients the most detailed and committed legal services available, taking the time to understand your situation and provide guidance on the best legal path forward. We can help you petition the court for a modification, file the appropriate documents, and help you fully understand your legal options when it comes to post-divorce changes.

Call the Family Law Team at (480) 467-4348 to discuss your case today.

Contact Our Family Law Team

Call (480) 467-4348 or fill out the form to schedule your consultation and discuss your best legal options.