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Can You Reopen a Divorce Case?

10 min read
Philip Ahn, Attorney

by Philip Ahn, Attorney

In general, divorce judgments are considered final and legally binding. The court aims to provide a sense of permanence to allow the former spouses to move forward with their lives. However, under certain compelling circumstances, a divorce case may be reopened.

The settlement agreement often addresses property division, spousal support, child custody, and support. While most divorcing spouses hope to put the case behind them, it is possible to reopen a divorce case if something has changed significantly or new information comes to light.

Before a divorce settlement has been finalized, there are standard procedures for unpausing a stalled divorce. However, a finalized divorce case may only be reopened for new or additional issues not addressed in the original divorce agreement. If you think you received an unjust divorce settlement and want to reopen your divorce case, a lawyer can provide legal advice and representation.

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Legal Grounds for A Divorce Settlement Be Reopened

Although a divorce decree is typically considered final, there are limited circumstances under which it may be possible for the divorce settlement to be reopened.


Fraud or misrepresentation occurs when one party deliberately conceals information or provides false details during the divorce process. This can significantly impact the divorce settlement, as it may lead to an unfair division of assets, custody arrangement, or support orders. If a court determines that one spouse committed fraud or misrepresentation, the other party may reopen the divorce case to rectify the situation. Examples of fraud or misrepresentation might include hiding assets, misrepresenting income, or providing false information about debts.

Mistake or Inadvertence

Such errors could include clerical mistakes in the divorce decree, mathematical errors in the division of assets, or even a misunderstanding of a material fact. If a significant mistake is discovered that affects the fairness of the divorce settlement, the court may allow the case to be reopened to ensure a just resolution.

Newly Discovered Evidence

Newly discovered evidence refers to information that was not known or reasonably discoverable during the previous divorce proceedings. The moving party must prove the new evidence would have substantially impacted the outcome of the case. The court might consider reopening the case to ensure fairness. For example, suppose one spouse finds evidence that the other spouse had undisclosed assets or engaged in activities that could impact child custody arrangements. In that case, the court may allow the case to be reopened to reevaluate the divorce settlement in light of the new information.

Lack of Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction is the legal authority of a court to hear and decide a case. If the court that issued the divorce decree did not have proper jurisdiction over the case, the judgment might be considered void. In such cases, the parties may need to reopen the divorce case to have the judgment set aside and the issues resolved in the proper court. Jurisdictional issues can arise from various factors, such as the parties’ residency or the location of assets subject to division.


In some instances, divorce papers may result from extreme duress, coercion, or undue influence by one spouse over the other. These situations can arise when one party uses threats, manipulation, or intimidation to pressure the other party into agreeing to an unfair settlement. If the court determines that one spouse was undergoing such circumstances or any psychological pressure to sign divorce papers, the case may be reopened to ensure a fair and just resolution for both parties.

Limitations for Reopening a Divorce Case

There are specific limitations and timelines that must be addressed in order to pursue this course of action.

Statutes of Limitations

Statutes of limitations are laws that set time limits on how long a party has to take legal action. In the context of reopening a divorce case, these time limits may vary depending on the legal ground for reopening. For example, some states may have specific time limits for filing a motion to set aside a divorce decree based on fraud, mistake, or newly discovered evidence. It is essential to consult with a divorce attorney who can help you understand the applicable statutes of limitations in your jurisdiction and ensure that your motion is filed in a timely manner.


Laches is an equitable defense that the opposing party may raise in a reopened divorce case. It applies when a party has unreasonably delayed taking legal action, and the delay has caused prejudice or harm to the other party. If the court finds that laches applies, it may deny the motion to reopen the case, even if the legal ground for reopening is valid.

For example, suppose one spouse discovers the other spouse concealed assets or material facts during the original divorce proceedings but waits several years to take action. In that case, the court may find that the delay in seeking to reopen the case has caused harm to the other party, making it unfair to allow the case to be reopened.

Impact of Remarriage

Remarriage can significantly impact the ability to reopen a divorce case. In some jurisdictions, remarriage may bar a party from seeking to modify or set aside spousal support orders. Also, remarriage may impact child custody and visitation arrangements, particularly if the remarriage results in relocation or a substantial change in circumstances. It is crucial to consider the potential consequences of remarriage before seeking to reopen a divorce case, as it may limit your available legal options.

Modifying vs. Reopening a Divorce Case: Understanding the Difference

Reopening a divorce case is a more drastic measure and is typically reserved for situations where a modification alone is insufficient to address the issues at hand. In most cases, modifications are the preferred remedy when seeking to alter post-divorce orders.

Modification of Spousal Support

Modifying a divorce case is different from reopening it. In the context of spousal support, modification typically occurs when there has been a substantial change in the financial circumstances of either party. For example, if the paying spouse loses their job or the receiving spouse’s financial needs change significantly, the court may modify the spousal support order to reflect the new circumstances. This process does not require reopening the entire divorce case; instead, it involves revisiting the specific issue of spousal support.

Modification of Child Support

Similar to spousal support, child support orders may be modified if there has been a substantial change in the circumstances of the parents or the child. Changes in income, living arrangements, or the child’s needs might warrant child support modification. In such cases, the court will examine the updated financial information of both parties and adjust the child support order accordingly without reopening the entire divorce case.

Modification of Child Custody and Visitation

Child custody and visitation orders may also be modified without reopening the entire divorce case. If there has been a significant change in the child’s or parents’ circumstances, the court may reevaluate the existing custody and visitation arrangement. Factors that may lead to modification include relocation, changes in the child’s needs, or concerns about the child’s safety and well-being. The court will focus on determining what is in the child’s best interest when considering a modification request.

Generally, modification only changes certain aspects of the already existing divorce case. There are more steps when an individual wants to reopen a divorce case. 

The Process of Reopening a Divorce Case

When seeking to reopen a divorce case, you must go through procedural steps to ensure the court considers your motion.

  1. Filing a Motion or Petition to Reopen: To initiate the process of reopening a divorce case, the party seeking to reopen must file a motion or petition with the court. This motion or petition should clearly outline the legal grounds for reopening the case and provide supporting evidence and documentation. It is crucial to adhere to the specific procedural requirements and deadlines set forth by the jurisdiction where the case was originally heard. Before moving forward with procedural requirements, consult an experienced family law attorney to ensure your motion or petition is filed correctly.
  2. The Burden of Proof: When seeking to reopen a divorce case, the burden of proof lies with the party requesting the reopening. This means that the party must present sufficient evidence to convince the court that there are valid legal grounds for reopening the case and that the original divorce settlement should be reconsidered. The standard of proof required may vary depending on the legal ground for reopening, but in most cases, it will involve demonstrating a significant error or injustice in the original proceedings.
  3. Evidentiary Hearings: Once the motion or petition to reopen has been filed, the court may schedule an evidentiary hearing. During this hearing, both parties will have the opportunity to present evidence and testimony to support their positions. The court may also hear from witnesses, review documents, and examine other relevant evidence to determine whether the legal grounds for reopening have been met. Being well-prepared for this hearing is important, as it may be the only opportunity to present your case to the court.
  4. Appeal and Appellate Review: This process involves the submission of written briefs and, in some cases, oral arguments before an appellate court. The appellate court will review the record of the lower court proceedings and determine whether the trial court made any errors of law or abused its discretion in denying the motion or petition. It is essential to consult with a divorce attorney if you are considering an appeal, as the process requires a thorough understanding of appellate rules and procedures.

Potential Consequences of Reopening a Divorce Case

Reopening a divorce case can have far-reaching implications for all parties involved, including financial, emotional, and legal consequences.

Financial Implications

The process can be costly, as it may involve additional legal fees, court costs, and the potential for a new settlement that alters the original financial arrangements. The party seeking to reopen the case may be required to pay for the other party’s legal expenses if the court determines that the reopening was not warranted.

Emotional Impact on the Parties

Divorce is already a stressful and emotional process, and reopening the case can exacerbate these feelings for both parties. The process may lead to increased conflict, resentment, and frustration and prolong the time it takes to reach a resolution. Consider the emotional toll of reopening a divorce case on you and your former spouse before deciding whether this course of action is best for your situation.

Effects on Children

The impact of reopening a divorce case extends beyond your ex-spouse and children. Revisiting the divorce proceedings can create instability and uncertainty for the children, who may have difficulty adjusting to the changing circumstances. If the reopening involves custody, visitation, or support issues, it can be particularly challenging for children who may have already adapted to the original arrangements.

Legal Risks and Uncertainty

Re open a divorce case comes with legal risks and uncertainty. While the party seeking to reopen the case may hope for a more favorable outcome, there is no guarantee that the court will favor them. In fact, the court may ultimately uphold the original divorce decree or even make less favorable changes to the party requesting the reopening. 


Reopening a divorce case is a complex legal process that requires a thorough understanding of the rules and regulations surrounding post-judgment modifications.

Unbundled Legal Help can connect you with an attorney who offers unbundled services or limited-scope representation. This approach allows you to receive professional legal assistance while controlling costs, as you only pay for the specific tasks you need help with.

The lawyers in our network offer services that start from $500 to $1,500, making legal representation more accessible compared to traditional representation, which may charge upwards of $5,000.

It is important to understand that while unbundled services can be an excellent option for many cases, only some situations are a good fit for this approach. If your case is more complex, you can still hire a lawyer within the network to handle your case from start to finish, providing comprehensive representation.

Contact a budget-friendly attorney in your area today to discuss your case.

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