Is Divorce Avoidable or Changeable?

The divorce decree is the court document that finalizes the divorce and sets forth the provisions by which both parties must abide. However, what if one spouse isn’t happy with the provisions set forth in the decree or with the divorce in general? Is it possible for that person to prevent or challenge the divorce decree?

Although divorce laws vary by state, in most cases it is very difficult for one spouse to disrupt a divorce decree.

Fault Divorce

Most states allow no-fault divorce, which means that one spouse does not have to prove that the other spouse did something wrong to justify the split. However, in states that do allow divorce on grounds of fault by one of the spouses, it may be possible to defend against a divorce. However, courts are disinclined to force people to stay married, and proving a divorce defense may prove time-consuming, costly, and ultimately fruitless.

Default Divorce

A person may try to avoid divorce by simply ignoring the initial complaint rather than answering it. However, this typically does not work. In no-fault states especially, a person seeking a divorce can file and obtain one without involvement by the other spouse. If the other spouse does not respond to the initial divorce complaint, the plaintiff can enter a request for a motion of default. If the judge decides to grant the motion, the divorce decree typically contains the provisions requested in the original divorce complaint regardless of the other party’s wishes.


A divorce decree is a judgment, and therefore it is possible to file a motion with the court asking for it to be set aside. However, this does not happen very often because it is difficult to accomplish. If one of the spouses can demonstrate a reason that the judgment should be set aside, it may be possible to overturn the divorce decree but only under extraordinary circumstances.

Modification or Appeal

A spouse who is unhappy with the terms of the divorce may be able to make changes through the processes of modification or appeal. A modification is an alteration to the provisions of the divorce decree based on a change in circumstances. An appeal is a challenge to the original divorce decree on the grounds that the judge made an error of law or of fact in the original judgment. In either case, the party entering the challenge must demonstrate cause.

There are other circumstances that make it difficult to challenge or overturn a divorce decree. For example, it is almost impossible if you and your spouse reached a settlement rather than litigating the case in court. Contact an attorney, like a family law lawyer in Arlington, VA, for answers to your questions today.

Thank you to the experts at May Law, LLP, for their time and input into family law.