Have you ever thought to yourself, “How in the world do I do X?” (Of course you have; everyone thinks that all the time. Well, I know I do every day, at least.)
If your X is “change a divorce decree,” then you’re not alone. When I started practicing law, I had no idea how one went about changing a divorce decree. (Dirty little secret: lawyers, like everyone else, have no idea what they’re doing until they’ve done it a thousand times, which is why you want experience on your side.)
Thankfully, I had some very nice people who explained the process to me. Let me take a minute and do for you what those nice people did for me.
Step 1 for changing a Utah divorce decree is reading your divorce decree.
People don’t read their decrees very often, which means they don’t know them that well. If you’re at the point where you want to change one thing, you should read through your decree to pick out all the things that aren’t working/you want to change. Might as well make all the changes in one fell swoop; it’ll save you significant time and money.
Step 2 is writing down everything you want to change.
Write down all the changes you want to make. Write down the specific page and paragraph numbers and how you want these paragraphs to read in the future. If you don’t do this now, you’ll forget later.
Step 3: put together your petition to modify.
A petition to modify is the name of the document you give to the Court that starts the decree modification process. If you don’t file one, you can’t change your decree.
The elements of a petition to modify are these:
(1) telling the Court what the sections of decree you want to change say right now;
(2) telling the Court how you want them changed (i.e., how you want them to read in the future); and
(3) telling the Court what major things have changed since the decree was signed that make it necessary to change the decree now.
You need to lay all three of those elements out, otherwise the Court may dismiss your petition to modify out of hand.
Step 4: file your petition to modify with clerks at the court where you were divorced.
What I mean by this is if your divorce was handled in the courthouse in Ogden, then you need to file your petition to modify in that same courthouse in Ogden. If it was in Provo, go back to Provo. West Jordan, go to West Jordan.
Go to the clerks’ office — almost always located on the first floor of the courthouse — and give them your petition to modify.
Remember: there is a filing fee (around $100), so make sure you have money ready.
Step 5: serve your ex with the petition to modify.
You have to serve your ex with the same documents you gave the Court. Usually, you hire a sheriff or a professional to serve the documents, although you can serve them in the mail. Read Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 7 for a detailed explanation regarding how you can serve your ex.
When serve has been completed, make sure to give the Court evidence of that service. If you used a sheriff or process server, he or she will give you a piece of paper proving service. Give that to the Court.
Step 6: mediate.
You’ll always have to mediate a petition to modify, so plan on it. (For more on mediation, read here.)
Step 7: file your mediated agreement or move on to trial.
If mediation was successful, then you’ll file with the Court the agreement you signed, along with some finalization documents (i.e., findings of fact and amended divorce decree). The judge will review and sign these documents and you’ll be done.
If you don’t reach an agreement in mediation, you’ll need to move on as if you’re going to trial. This means you’ll need to gather information (i.e., discovery), put together your evidence, and then go to trial. It’s an involved process, and if you’re going to do it yourself, you need to do quite a lot of research. (You can start by reading our trial explanation letter.)
That’s it in a nutshell. Like I said before, if you’re going to do this yourself, do your research. Do lots of research.