Skip to Content
Serving Iowa Families Statewide

Modifying Terms of Your Divorce Settlement


When divorce proceedings come to an end, it won’t necessarily mean you don’t have to see your ex in court again. When a court issues its final judgment regarding the dissolution of your marriage, it might also issue orders that remain effective for years after divorce proceedings ended, such as alimony and child support.

The court that issued your divorce decree and associated orders retains jurisdiction to handle requests to modify the terms of your divorce. However, courts will only grant post-judgment modifications upon showing that a material change in circumstances justifies changing the terms of those divorce orders.

When modifying court-determined divorce orders, the parties usually rely on court records to show a change in circumstances. When the court issued its initial orders, it explains why it did so on the record.

To successfully obtain a modification, a requesting party must show that circumstances changed since the court made its orders and that the terms of those orders no longer service justice under the new circumstances.

However, how does modification work when the couple negotiated the terms of their divorce through private settlement? When a divorcing couple reaches a private settlement, the court incorporates the settlement’s terms into its final judgment, issuing court orders based on the settlement’s terms.

Courts are still in charge when it comes to modifying the terms of a private divorce settlement. As a result, the parties must still demonstrate that a substantial change in circumstances justifies modifying the orders.

Modifying Alimony

In Iowa, alimony is awarded to ensure the basic needs of a financially disadvantaged spouse are met after divorce. Under Iowa law, a court must consider certain factors when determining whether alimony is appropriate to award as well as the duration and amount of the obligation.

Courts consider the following factors during alimony proceedings:

  • How long the marriage lasted
  • The standard of living the parties enjoyed right before separating
  • The needs of the parties
  • Each party’s financial resources
  • The earning ability of the parties
  • The terms of a marital contract
  • Consequential tax treatment of alimony

In court, these factors are explicitly considered by the judge when determining alimony issues. If circumstances change how these factors apply, the parties can easily compare the new circumstances to those circumstances the court considered when it rendered the initial alimony order.

When it comes to private divorce settlements, a party seeking modification must also compare new circumstances to the relevant circumstances of their settlement agreement. As a result, it is vital for the parties’ attorneys to include provisions that specify the circumstances pertinent to the terms of alimony, especially if the party foresees the necessity of changing these terms.

Modifying Child Custody

Another critical issue that is often subject to post-judgment modifications involves child custody. Under Iowa law, the court must assess the appropriateness of a child custody arrangement in light of factors concerning the best interests of the child.

Factors for determining child custody include:

  • The parties’ fitness to act as custodian
  • The emotional development of the child
  • The parties’ willingness and ability to communicate regarding the child
  • Each parent’s ability to provide affection and support for the child
  • The child’s wishes
  • The physical distance between the parents and the child
  • The child’s safety
  • The terms of a private custody agreement

Similar to alimony, child custody determinations often involve examining specific circumstances. If child custody was resolved through private negotiations, modifying those terms in the future requires proof that the circumstances relevant to child custody have changed. To make things easier, the parties and their attorneys should include express language that alludes to the pertinent circumstances of the intended custody arrangement. Otherwise, the parties might spend an inordinate amount of time litigating about what the original circumstances were when they negotiated the terms of custody.

The parties might want to expressly identify which terms would constitute a material change of circumstances warranting modification in the future. This can help to streamline future modification proceedings by specifying in advance the conditions under which the parties can modify their agreed-upon custody arrangement.

Miscellaneous Issues

A divorce settlement is an agreement that is often structured like a contract. If you want to streamline the modification process in the future, you and your attorney should include specific terms as to how modifications should work.

For example, a provision that requires modifications to be agreed upon by both parties can give spouses more leeway when future modification issues arise. Also, the parties can agree to a choice of law provision instructing the court to analyze the settlement’s terms using the laws of another state.

Contact Hope Law Firm for More Information

Our legal team at Hope Law Firm is dedicated to helping families in Des Moines finding a peaceful and just resolution to various legal disputes, such as modifying divorce orders. You can trust our dedicated attorneys to work hard to protect your rights and legal interests.

To arrange an initial consultation about your case, call us at (515) 305-2772 or contact us online today.