After a divorce or during a separation in Canada, parties may wonder whether changes to agreements are possible, and if so, how to go about them.
According to David Greig, author of The Separation Guide: Know Your Options, Take Control, and Get Your Life Back, this question comes up surprisingly frequently in divorce and separation cases because circumstances change: Kids grow up; parents get raises, lose jobs, or acquire assets; new spouses become part of the picture; or perhaps one person wishes to move away and this will affect child custody arrangements.
Greig advises that changing agreements is generally a tricky thing to do, especially when dealing with family law, as childrens’ needs change as they age, but laws governing the changing of agreements are not the same in all jurisdictions across the country.
In high-conflict separations and divorces, he says, every little thing should be put in writing. In more friendly arrangements, minor modifications may not need to be recorded each time; this kind of elasticity and cooperation is preferable, although sometimes not possible.
What should always be put in writing, no matter what, to protect your interests and those of any children going forward are major changes to custody or support.
In The Separation Guide, Greig points out some rules to remember no matter where you are in Canada when looking to change a court order:
- For the most part, only a court order can change an existing court order. Verbal agreements don’t count.
- Describe new agreements as variations or amendments to the original agreement and keep copies of everything together.
- The reason for the amendment should be clearly explained near the beginning of the amendment.
- Use the same language in amendments as was used in original agreements (for example, if “maintenance” is used in the original, don’t change it to “alimony” in the amendment).
Don’t get frustrated and throw out all the hard work you put into the original agreement if you hit a few speed bumps. You and your ex made one (or more) agreements before, so don’t panic, and keep at it. Chances are you can iron out the changes and come to an agreement once more.
Although many people likely don’t want to involve a lawyer unless absolutely necessary, if you are dealing with an acrimonious or contentious situation, or are unsure of any details of your existing agreement or new amendment, it is always wise to consult a professional.