When parents of a child separate or divorce, in most cases, they will have a child custody order or child visitation order put into place. The court will review the case and make a determination based on what is in the best interest of the child.
If the parents can agree to modify a custody order, they may be able to resolve the issue in mediation, a type of alternative dispute resolution. In some instances, one of the parents may want to modify an existing child custody or visitation order.
What Questions Should I Expect at a Meeting With a Child Custody Modification Lawyer?
In certain situations, existing child custody or support orders need to be modified, especially when a parent’s income changes or the child’s needs change. Prior to meeting with a child custody lawyer, an individual should prepare for the appointment.
It is important to be aware that a lawyer will need a large amount of accurate and detailed information to build a case. Each attorney has their own unique interview process.
There are, however, some common questions that a child custody modification lawyer may ask, including:
- Have the child’s needs changed?
- Has one parent’s job changed?
- Will one parent be moving?
- Are there circumstances that have made it where one parent can no longer care for the child as much?
- Any other questions the lawyer thinks are necessary.
What Are the Grounds for Child Custody Modification?
With any custody issue, the best interests of the child will always be most important. If a custody arrangement has been working well and the child is doing well, a court may be hesitant to modify it.
Because of this, an individual will need proper grounds to modify an existing order, such as just cause or a change in circumstances. For example, a court may modify an order if the parent with visitation has skipped out on the majority of their scheduled visits with their child.
This may be an indication that it is not in the best interests of the child to keep giving their absent parent visitation rights. In this type of situation, the court may put the parent on a trial period or take the visits away completely.
Another reason to modify an order would be if there is child abuse. Child abuse is extremely serious and is considered an immediate danger to the child’s well-being.
Another example may be one parent’s desire to be more involved in their child’s life. This may still be difficult if the current arrangement works well and provides the child with a positive environment.
For example, say a parent had visitation only once a week because of a substance abuse problem, but they went to rehab and turned their life around. In that case,then the court may consider this to be a change in circumstances that warrants increased custody. There are, however, instances where the court will not allow modifications.
For example, a modification will not be granted simply because the child wants it done. The court, however, may ask for input from the child during a hearing and weigh it with the other evidence to determine what is in their best interest.
The age of the child also factors in strongly regarding what weight the court gives to their wishes. Other reasons that a parent may want to modify a child custody order may include, but are not limited to:
- One parent moving out of state;
- One parent thinks their child is in danger;
- One parent failing to follow the current court order;
- Death or incarceration of the custodial parent.
When Can You Modify a Child Custody or Visitation Order?
A child custody or visitation order may be modified when one of the parents requests it or when there has been a change in circumstances. As long as the parties can show the change is in the child’s best interest, an order can be modified whenever requested.
Do You or the Other Parent Owe Unpaid Child Support?
Although an individual may be able to modify future child support payments, they typically cannot retroactively reduce their support payments. In other words, unpaid child support will not be decreased or increased based on a change in circumstances.
However, an individual’s child support lawyer may be able to help them collect unpaid child support.
Does Your Child Support Order Have a Cost of Living Clause?
Some child support orders contain a cost of living adjustment (COLA) clause. If a support order contains a COLA clause, an individual may not need court approval to increase or decrease support payments.
They should bring their existing support order with them to the appointment.
How Often Can You Modify Child Custody?
In some states, such as Alabama, the law prohibits a modification of a child custody order within a year of a divorce unless the child’s health is in danger or if the custodial parent has allowed the child to result with the other parent for the majority of the year.
An order can be modified at any time until the child reaches the age of majority.
How Do I Request a Child Custody Modification?
In order to request a child custody modification, an individual should file a petition or motion with the appropriate court. These petitions typically must include:
- Both parents’ names and addresses;
- Copies of any existing orders;
- The reason they are seeking modification; and
- Proposed modification terms.
The petition should be filed with the clerk of the court where the case was handled. There may be a filing fee and other documents required along with the petition.
A copy of the child custody modification petition will be served on the other party. After that, the court issues a hearing date where both parties can present their arguments.
Following the hearing, the court will determine if a modification is in the best interests of the child.
How Is Your Relationship Like With Your Child’s Other Parent?
It may be easier to modify child custody and support obligations if an individual has an amicable relationship with their ex. In many cases, alternative dispute resolution (ADR), including mediation, can be helpful when parents cannot immediately agree on issues.
In order to use the most effective legal strategy for an individual’s case, their lawyer will need to understand the nature of their relationship with the other parent.
What Should I Bring to a Meeting With a Child Custody Modification Lawyer?
It is important for an individual to bring anything they believe is relevant to their appointment, including documents or other evidence, such as:
- The child’s birth certificate;
- Any existing child support orders;
- Income information, including check stubs and tax forms;
- Evidence of changed circumstances, such as:
- medical records;
- other increased expenses;
- Information about the other parent’s income; and
- Any relevant communications between the individual and the other parent.
This information will help the lawyer evaluate and understand the case.
Where Can You Find the Right Lawyer?
Although you are allowed to represent yourself in family court proceedings, such as modifications of custody or visitation orders, it can be very beneficial to hire a child custody lawyer. Your lawyer can represent you throughout the process and ensure your petition is filed according to the rules of your jurisdiction.
Your lawyer can also help present your position during any hearings or ADR meetings.