When child custody is involved, it is generally assumed that the judgment is never final. This is because the needs and best interests of the child(ren) involved will probably change over time, and as the child ages. However, there are sometimes circumstances that would warrant changes in the child custody agreement.
A child custody agreement outlines the guidelines and specifics of child custody between the parents of the child. Further, the custody agreement must be approved by a judge in order to be legally enforceable. Custody is generally formulated and approved during the divorce or separation hearings. In order for the agreement to be modified, both parents must agree to a new child custody agreement. After both parents agree to a new custody arrangement, the judge will need to approve of the proposed changes, same as when the order was first drafted.
If the parents do not agree, it might be necessary for the courts to get involved. In such cases, one parent will need to file a petition with the family court, requesting to modify the previous custody order. Next, the parent seeking modification will need to serve the other parent with a copy of the motion.
Additionally, some jurisdictions require a waiting period before a modification is permitted. However, if there is evidence that the child is in imminent danger, a court may be compelled to make immediate changes to the previous order.
As previously mentioned, any desired changes to a child custody agreement must first be approved by a judge in order to be considered legally enforceable. The court is more likely to approve of any changes if both parents agree to modify the previous order, as well as agreeing to the changes themselves.
It is important to note that you can also include language and provisions to about future revisions. Mediation may be a good option for divorced parents who need some help with this.
In most states, you will need to file a petition with the court that first granted custody, requesting a modification; however, this is not required in every state. Some exceptions include if the parents have moved to another part of the state, or if there is some other situation that would make it difficult to file in the original court. In such circumstances, the court will usually allow the parents to file in the court in whichever county the child currently lives in.
Should the parents not agree, the parents will attend a custody hearing once they have filed their respective pleadings. Both parents will present their cases to the judge, and explain why they believe the changes are necessary. Any changes requiring a modification must be substantial, such as a parent moving away, the child’s residence no longer being a safe environment, or the current order is not being followed and therefore requires changes in order to be properly enforced.
Documentation will assist any requests for changes. Suitable documentation includes any evidence of problematic behavior, situations, and statements that support your claim. This evidence may be from witnesses or even from the child themselves, if they are old enough.
Most courts are going to weigh every decision regarding child custody against the child’s best interest standard. There is not much importance placed on what the parents want or what is convenient for them, outside of how it affects the child.
Some factors that are considered include:
- The child’s background, such as their age, sex, and personal health characteristics;
- Whether the child is disabled or has special needs;
- The child’s own preferences if the child is at least twelve to fourteen years old (although this factor does not substitute for other factors);
- Environmental factors, such as the quality of education in each parent’s school district;
- The physical and mental health of each parent; or
- The ability of each parent to provide financially and emotionally for the child.
These are just a few of the factors considered when determining the child’s best interests. Once again, for the court to change a child custody agreement, it is typically required that one or both of the parents demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances that affects the best interests of the child.
Violating a child custody order can result in some very serious consequences, and the order is always drafted with the child’s best interests in mind. If any changes need to be made to the child custody order, it is imperative to request them as soon as possible.
A knowledgeable and qualified child custody attorney will draw up the necessary paperwork, as well as explain to you what your specific state requires to modify a custody order. Additionally, a family law attorney can recommend a mediator, assist with gathering evidence, and even represent you in court as necessary.