Modifying a Divorce Decree in Arizona
Modified Arizona Divorce Decree
In Arizona, spouses planning to separate or file for divorce are free to agree among themselves about property and support matters in a private contract. Private agreements can be modified in writing if both spouses sign off. Courts affirm these agreements in a divorce as long as the property division and spousal support arrangement seems fair. In the recent case of LaPrade v. LaPrade, 189 Ariz. 243 (Ariz. 1997), the Arizona Supreme Court discussed whether a couple could make modifications to a settlement agreement after the court has affirmed the agreement in a divorce case. Before we begin our discussion, we want you to know either party may file to modify the Arizona divorce decree provisions for child support, child custody, parenting time, and alimony upon a sufficient showing of a change in circumstances since the decree was entered. The Arizona Supreme Court in the LaPrade v. Laprade case, however, addressed modifications of other orders in the decree.
Can Your Modify a Divorce Decree in Arizona?
Sarah Jane LaPrade and A.T. LaPrade, Jr. were a married couple who decided to divorce. They agreed on a property division and spousal support arrangement that A.T.’s attorneys put into writing and the couple signed. A week later, the Maricopa County Superior Court entered a divorce judgment. In it, the court confirmed and approved of the agreement, and made it a part of the divorce decree. The agreement stated that Sarah and A.T. could change its terms if they both agreed to the changes in writing. Over the course of the next 20 years, they changed the agreement four times. Each of the modifications was in writing, signed by both of them, and filed with and approved by the court.
In 1994, A.T. died. He had remarried before he died and Roy A. Brown was named the executor of his estate. Brown filed a motion to reopen the divorce proceedings between Sarah and A.T. that happened 20 years before, claiming that the four modifications were void. He argued that they were too vague to be enforced and that the divorce court did not have the authority to make them because – he claimed – the written settlement agreement had merged into the divorce judgment. Under Arizona law, the property division set out in a divorce decree cannot be modified once the order is entered.
The superior court denied the motion, ruling that the modifications were not void, but the court of appeals reversed. It ruled that the changes were invalid because the divorce court did not have authority to modify the property division set out in a final divorce judgment. On appeal, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the modifications were not void. It determined that they were not vague and that they did not merge into the divorce judgment.
Chris Hildebrand wrote this article about modifying a divorce decree in Arizona to ensure everyone has access to information about divorce laws in Arizona. Chris is a family law attorney at Hildebrand Law, PC. He has over 24 years of Arizona family law experience and has received multiple awards, including US News and World Report “Top Arizona Divorce Attorneys”, Phoenix Magazine “Top Divorce Law Firms”, and Arizona Foothills Magazine “Best of the Valley” award. He believes the policies and procedures he uses to get his clients through a divorce should all be guided by the principles of honesty, integrity, and actually caring about what his clients are going through.