Obtaining Custody Modifications

There’s one thing that’s almost certain about life: circumstances will change, and possibly change fairly frequently. This means that a divorce agreement which was carefully crafted and fair when it was signed most likely won’t stay that way over time. Fortunately, the terms of your divorce agreement are not set in stone and can be modified later to ensure they remain effective and fair to you and your ex while keeping your child’s best interests first.

Qualifying for a Modification

In order to be eligible to receive a modification for an existing order, the courts will usually ask the requesting parent to show a “substantial change in circumstances.” This principle goes two ways: it encourages stability in the home, and it prevents the court from becoming burdened with unnecessary and frequent modification requests.

What are these “substantial changes?” Here are a few common examples.

If you plan on moving a short distance, such as a house across town, then you won’t need the court’s permission to do so. But moving a longer distance, such as out of state, will impact your ability to spend time with your child. Depending on your custody order, you may be required to get the court’s permission to make this move. Part of getting the courts permission involves re-working your custody order and visitation schedule, particularly in a joint-custody situation.

Change in Employment
Get a new job? Great! But what happens when your new gig places your shift directly over where you would have otherwise had your visitation time? This is a substantial change which allows you to petition for a modification.

A change in family status can also warrant a change in child custody. When one spouse re-marries, their new partner must also be dedicated to the best interests and upbringing of the child. Otherwise, they may risk losing custody and being limited to visitation hours only. This isn’t normally an issue, but if a new step-parent is abusive towards the child, then it’s not uncommon for parents to seek modifications immediately to protect them.

Obtaining a Modification

Once a divorce is finalized, either parent can choose to file for a modification of either custody or visitation terms (or both) at any time. Modifying these terms does not require the approval of the court, however, it’s strongly advised that you do have the court approve the order in order to make it enforceable should your ex choose to disagree with the modification at a later date. It’s rare for the court to reject a modification proposal, so long as it keeps the child’s best interests first.

If one spouse refuses to go along with the modification request, then the parent who wishes to get the modification may petition the court, who can then modify the agreement despite the other spouse’s objections, so long as the new circumstances are not intended to interfere with the other parent’s rights and visitation ability, and have the best interests of the child at heart.


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