In a divorce or separation, there are several court orders that make up the case. This is true whether the outcome was reached through mediation and a separation agreement or through litigation and court decisions. These court orders include division of property, child custody, child support, and spousal maintenance. These orders outline how you and your family’s lives change.

However, not all of these court-enforced orders are final. Missouri courts understand that families can go through significant life changes that make previous court orders no longer in a family’s interest or unable to meet their needs. If you, your co-parent, or your children are dealing with a substantial change in circumstances, this may qualify you to receive a modification of spousal maintenance, child custody, or child support. Division of property cannot be modified after the divorce decree. If you’re unsure if your life circumstances warrant a modification, you can discuss your case with a qualified attorney.

Understanding the Reasons for Modifications

For some order modifications, co-parents or ex-spouses can agree on a change and submit it to the court for approval. However, some modifications require more proof from the court, such as a child custody order being beneficial for the child.

If the two parties do not agree on the modification, they must each argue their case in court. The party who is petitioning for the modification has to prove that there is a substantial change in circumstances that makes the modification reasonable. If the court order involves children, the petitioning parent must also prove that the change is in the child’s interests.

A substantial change in circumstances could include:

  • One party’s increase or decrease in income
  • One party’s change in employment
  • A child’s change in financial needs
  • One party’s change in financial or medical needs
  • A child growing up
  • One party’s efforts to become self-sufficient
  • A parent looking to relocate with their children
  • A certain amount of time passing since the last modification or creation of the order

The substantial change in circumstance needed for modification will depend on the order being modified.

Reasonable Modifications to Spousal Maintenance

Spouses can arrange to have maintenance modifiable in specific circumstances in their separation agreement. Otherwise, a spouse must show a substantial and continuing change in circumstances related to the financial needs or financial changes of themself or the other party. Continuing means that it is not a temporary change and is expected to last for a significant period of time. A substantial and continuing change may include:

  • The paying spouse has an increase or decrease in income or a change in employment
  • The receiving spouse has had a change in income or employment
  • The financial needs of either spouse have changed, such as new medical expenses
  • Either spouse has had new property or asset acquisitions
  • The receiving spouse has worked to become self-supporting

In some cases, spousal maintenance is made non-modifiable by the court or by the parties. It can’t be modified in that case. If a spouse waived the right to spousal maintenance during the initial divorce, that is final. They cannot then request a modification to receive spousal maintenance.

Modifications to Child Support

Child support orders may be made through the court or through the Family Support Division (FSD). Courts can modify either FSD or court-ordered payments, while the FSD can only modify FSD orders. The FSD submits potential modifications to the court.

Child support modifications can be made based on financial changes in either parent’s life or changing financial needs of the child and must be in the child’s interests. A parent can also file if the original order was unfair or not appropriate. The FSD will only review modification requests if it has been three years since the order was made or modified, except in specific circumstances.

Modifications to Custody and Visitation

Visitation orders, or parenting time plans, are easier to modify. In order to modify these, a parent must only show that it is in the child’s interests. There doesn’t need to be a substantial change in circumstances.

To modify custody, or the primary residence of the child, more requirements have to be met. These include:

  1. The court must have jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA);
  2. There is a continuing and substantial change in the family’s circumstances;
  3. This change in circumstances has made the previous custody order unreasonable; and
  4. The modification is in the interests of the child.


Q: When Can You Modify Child Custody Orders in Missouri?

A: A substantial change in circumstances that warrants modification of a child custody order includes:

  • A parent’s marriage or remarriage
  • Changes in the child’s parental needs
  • The changing preferences of the child in some cases
  • Changes in a parent’s ability to support their child

Q: At What Age Can a Child Choose Not to See a Parent in Missouri?

A: In Missouri, children can only refuse to see their parents when they are no longer children. Once they reach 18, they are a legal adult. Before then, a child is required to follow custody and visitation court orders. However, the court will take the child’s wishes into account. The court is not required to listen to a child’s input, but the closer they are to 18, the more likely the court is to use their wishes to determine custody or visitation.

Q: What Is an Emergency Modification of Custody in Missouri?

A: A parent can petition the court for emergency temporary custody in cases of abuse or neglect or when a child is in a dangerous living situation. This includes if the child’s mental, emotional, or physical safety is at risk. A filing party must show examples of specific instances of abuse, neglect, harm, or threats of violence in order to have the court grant the petition.

Q: What Are the Grounds for Full Custody in Missouri?

A: In Missouri, “full custody” usually refers to sole physical and legal custody. Physical custody refers to where a child lives, and legal custody refers to the ability to make legal decisions for a child. The court generally assumes that joint custody that is shared between parents is in the child’s interests unless proven otherwise. In order to gain sole custody, a parent will have to prove that the other parent is unfit to care for the child. Behaviors such as child abuse, neglect, untreated and continuing substance abuse, or an inability to care for the child’s basic needs may make a parent unfit.

Legal Support for Your Family

Contact Stange Law Firm for compassionate legal representation when modifying family court orders.