How to Modify an Existing Child Custody or Visitation Order

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How to Modify an Existing Child Custody or Visitation Order

There are two major types of child custody arrangements: legal and physical. 

What Is a Child Visitation Order?

If sole physical custody is granted to one parent, the other parent (non-custodial parent) is usually entitled to reasonable visitation rights. These rights give the parent not living with the child the opportunity to spend time with the child. The type (supervised or unsupervised) and frequency of the visitation order can be determined by either the court or the parents themselves.

Can I Modify Child Custody and Visitation Orders?

Yes, the allocation of parental rights can be modified if the non-custodial parent's circumstances significantly change. There are two ways in which this can happen:

  1. The Court has continuing power to modify custody orders at any point in time, and
  2. The Parents can both consent to modification at any time.

Under What Circumstances Will a Court Modify a Child Custody or Visitation Order?

In the area of child custody, laws differ from state to state.

The court's primary concern when dealing with children is doing what is in their best interest; a stable environment is always in the child's best interest. If a state only uses the best interest test, then the court can modify custody and visitation based merely on the child’s best interests. Under a best interest test, the judge doesn’t need a change in circumstances to justify changing child custody.

However, stability is a common theme throughout. As a result, many states use a "changed circumstances" analysis instead of a best interest determination. If a judge uses a "changed circumstances" test, the judge assumes that the prior custody decision was correct. As a result, the judge will only modify custody if there is a continuing and substantial change that demands a change in custody.

Changed circumstances that typically effect a court's decision in whether to modify a custody or visitation order include:

Do I Need a Family Attorney?

If you are looking to modify child custody or visitation arrangements, it is generally wise to consult with a family lawyer. A lawyer has experience dealing with the complicated court system and can work to protect your relationship with the child. See these articles for additional information about Child Custody Laws and Child Custody Guidelines.

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Last Modified: 05-18-2015 10:41 AM PDT

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