Looking to Modify a Divorce Judgment? Here’s What Constitutes a Change in Circumstance

Life happens. Sometimes, an old divorce judgment no longer reflects a current situation due to a significant change in circumstances. These changes in circumstances can be reflective on one (or both) parties involved, and an individual can file a complaint for modification with the appropriate court in order to address the request changes to the previous judgment.  

When requesting a change in a previous judgment, either party can look to modify issues such as custody, child support, alimony or parenting time.  In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, your probate judge will weigh any relevant circumstance and may reset your original divorce agreement based on new evidence. (Bush v. Bush, 402 Mass. 406 , 411 (1988))1

Child Support

Child support orders can be modified, but the pleading party must show a significant change in circumstances, such as: 

  1. If the amount that should be paid under the current child support guidelines has significantly changed vs. the amount that is currently being paid
  2. There has been an involuntary change in employment 
  3. The party is now disabled
  4.   There has been a change in a child’s living arrangement.  

If the modification of child support is sought based solely on the child support guidelines, under Massachusetts General Law, child support will be modified accordingly. 2

Custody/Parenting Time

Under Massachusetts Law, a court may only modify a child custody order if two conditions are met.  First, there must be a material change in circumstances of the parties, and second, the modification is by necessity because it is in the best interest of the children. The question then becomes, what constitutes a material change in circumstances? Some examples the court will consider:

  • One parent repeatedly interferes with the custodial rights of the other parent
  • If there is evidence of abuse or neglect of the child/children
  • The child/children’s current home environment is no longer safe or dangerous to their health and safety.
  • One parent is no longer able to properly care of the child/children due to mental illness or alcohol/substance abuse.  


Alimony is court-ordered support paid by one spouse to the other for a period after a divorce. In determining whether there has been a “material” change, the court will look at factors such as the ability of the person paying to pay the alimony, or a material change in the need for the alimony of the person receiving it, or both. A complaint for modification can also be filed for a change, reduction, or elimination of alimony based on the following factors:

  • Death
  • Remarriage
  • Co-habitation
  • If the person paying alimony reaches full retirement age

Remember: the court will always look to the best interest of the child/children in making a decision regarding any modification. If you are looking to make a modification, or the other party in your divorce judgment is considering a modification due to a chance in circumstances, give DiPiano Family Law Group P.C. a call at (978) 877-5159.


  1. “In determining whether there has been a material change in the parties’ circumstances, the probate judge must weigh the relevant circumstances; the resolution of the various factors rests within the judge’s sound discretion…. Unless there is no basis in the record for the judge’s decision, we defer to the judge’s evaluation of the evidence presented at trial.”  (Bush v. Bush, 402 Mass. 406 , 411 (1988).
  2. Massachusetts General Laws c. 208 Section 28, “The [child support] order shall be modified accordingly unless the inconsistency between the amount of the existing order and the amount of the order that would result from application of the guidelines is due to the fact that the amount of the existing order resulted from a rebuttal of the guidelines and that there has been no change in the circumstances which resulted in such rebuttal; provided, however, that even if the specific facts that justified departure from the guidelines upon entry of the existing order remain in effect, the order shall be modified in accordance with the guidelines unless the court finds that the guidelines amount would be unjust or inappropriate under the circumstances and that the existing order is consistent with the best interests of the child. A modification of child support may enter notwithstanding an agreement of the parents that has independent legal significance.”