Child Custody Presumption in Favor of the Status Quo

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 What are Child Custody Arrangements?

Generally speaking, the term “child custody” refers to various rights that a parent or parents may have in relation to their child or children. These rights may include:

  • Rights to have the child live with them (“physical custody” rights)
  • Rights to make important decisions on behalf of the child (“legal custody” rights)
  • Rights to visit the child (“visitation” rights); and 
  • Various other rights.

These types of determinations typically come into play in a divorce or legal separation situation. In many cases, one parent (the “custodial” parent), will spend more time with the child and the child may live with them for a majority of the time. 

The other parent (the “noncustodial” parent), may have limited custody rights, and may have some visitation rights with the child (for instance, visitation with the child on weekends or every other weekend). 

These details all depend on various factors and elements, which the court will decide and set into motion in a child custody order.

What is the Status Quo in Relation to Child Custody?

The term “status quo” generally refers to the current status of matters. For child custody, “status quo” refers to the parental arrangement before the actual child custody hearings. Often, parents have separated and already created custody arrangements before the official divorce. For instance, the child or children may already be living with one parent before they even file for divorce.

Some custody issues that parents may have decided prior to official divorce and child custody proceedings include:

  • When the children should live with which parent;
  • How long the child should stay with each parent;
  • Where the child should go during which holidays;
  • Which parent is in charge of making decisions for the child; and
  • Various other decisions that depend on the circumstances of the case. 

What Does “Presumption in Favor of the Status Quo” Mean in a Child Custody Context?

A court child custody order that contains a “presumption in favor of the status quo” means that the custody arrangements that were present before the formal custody hearings are preserved. This is because the guiding principle behind child custody arrangements is whatever that is in “the best interests of the child.” This means that all decisions and determinations are made by prioritizing the needs and background of the child, not necessarily the desires of the parents. 

Thus, if the child has become accustomed to a particular arrangement or the way the arrangement was before divorce filings, then it may be disruptive to the child to change the arrangement.

For instance, suppose that prior to a divorce filing, the child was living for some time with their father. In a child custody hearing that preserves the status quo, the court may choose to grant a majority of the custody rights to the child’s father. 

This will be done so as not to disrupt the arrangement that the child has gotten used to. This is especially important in cases where the child is still very young, or where they have special needs or requirements.

Can the Status Quo in Child Custody Be Changed?

However, in some cases, the status quo can be changed if the judge determines that the present custody arrangement is not suitable for the child. This can occur when any of the following situations or issues occur:

  • One of the parents has committed abuse, acts of violence, or other violations against the other parent or the child (or against other members of the family living with them);
  • A new law regarding child custody arrangements has been passed in the state or area;
  • The status quo arrangement is no longer practical for the child (such as if one of the parents moves or relocates to a different city or state); and/or
  • There is evidence that the child’s needs are better served by a different child custody/visitation arrangement.

Each state’s law differs on when a status quo custody arrangement can be changed. Typically, however, a judge will make a child custody determination after taking a comprehensive look at the situation the child is in. 

Consequently, it is also possible that an existing custody arrangement may be changed according to a judge’s particular order. It is also possible to change the custody arrangement after divorce or after other proceedings.

It is important to note that if you feel there is a need to have a child custody order modified, then you should contact the court and receive the court’s approval first. Violations can occur if you attempt to change the custody order without first obtaining a child custody modification. 

If you violate the child custody order before a modification is ordered, then you can face serious consequences and can hurt your petition for modification. It is always best to be patient, and if you fear that your child may be in immediate harm then you should contact the local police/authorities. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help in Changing a Status Quo Order?

Changing a status quo order depends on the child custody laws are in your particular state (they can be different from state to state). In order to determine which are the applicable laws in your state, speak with an experienced child custody lawyer in your area today. Your attorney can provide legal guidance, advice, and representation when it comes to matters involving the status quo in a child custody arrangement.

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