Child custody is not always fixed. When parents separate or divorce, an initial child custody order that describes the custody arrangement may be obtained. However, if circumstances change, the court has the authority to alter the order at any time until the kid reaches the age of 18.
All that is required is for one parent to file a modification request with the court and for the judge to grant it. The parent who wishes to modify will usually do so with the assistance of a family law professional. The judge will examine the matter and determine whether there are reasons or grounds for a change in custody. In this post, we will look at the most common reasons why a judge will change custody and grant the sought modification.
If a judge determines the following two things to be true, the court may amend the child custody order:
- There has been a significant change in circumstances impacting the child’s welfare;
- that change is in the best interests of the child
If the judge makes these findings, the modification can be issued.
Let’s look at the reasons that will persuade a judge to change child custody.
Reasons for a Judge to Change Custody
#1. Violation of a Court Order
When a child custody agreement is made, it becomes legally binding and must be obeyed by both parents. Contempt of court occurs when a parent intentionally and deliberately fails to obey a court’s judgment. In other words, they are purposefully disregarding the conditions of the present order. One of the primary reasons for reducing child visitation is this reason. There are various ways a child custody agreement could be violated, including the following:
- The visitation privileges of one parent are denied to the other parent.
- Taking the child on long road journeys without first talking with the other parent.
- Every week, the youngster is not returned on time.
- Withholding the child in order to obtain child support.
In these instances, the parent who is not in violation of the agreement is the one who can request a modification of child custody. If it can be demonstrated that the violation of the agreement is harmful to the kid, it will serve as grounds for a custody change, and the other parent’s visitation rights or parenting time may be revoked or reduced. It is recommended that you seek the assistance of a child custody lawyer.
#2. The Situation of the Parents Has Changed
Because the courts acknowledge that circumstances can change, a change in the parent’s situation can serve as grounds for custody adjustment. However, in order for it to be accepted as a basis for changing custody, the parent requesting the change must demonstrate that it is a significant change that will have an influence on the child’s well-being. For example, if the non-custodial parent develops a drug addiction or substance misuse, the custodial parent may file a petition to have custody taken away from them. The opposite is also true, with the custodial parent losing custody.
Positive changes in the circumstances can result in a parent having more visitation rights, just as negative developments might result in parental rights being removed. For example, the non-custodial parent may have had substance addiction concerns at the time the custody agreement was signed. Where it is safe to do so, family courts typically agree that the child having a relationship with both parents is best for the child’s well-being. As a result, if they can now demonstrate that they are sober and reliable, they may be able to obtain a modification of child custody in order to spend more time with their child.
#3. The Parents Have Moved Physically
Another reason a judge will change custody is if one of the parents relocates physically. The move must be of a significant distance for this to be grounds for custody adjustment. Their new location would have to render the previous custody agreement cumbersome and impossible to follow. Even so, this is not automatically regarded as a significant basis to change the agreement and so is not assured of success. When evaluating whether to change the custody arrangement, the judge will evaluate the reasons for the move.
It is worth noting that many child custody orders restrict the custodial parent’s ability to relocate the child. For example, a clause may prohibit a parent from moving their child out of state or more than 50 miles away from the other parent. In these situations, any additional relocation would be considered a violation of the order and might be considered child abduction. However, if both parents agree on the move and modifications to the child visitation schedule, a modification of custody can be obtained to best suit the new arrangement.
#4. The Untimely Death of a Parent
The death of a parent is one of the reasons the judge has to change the child custody arrangement. If the non-custodial parent dies, the custodial parent takes complete custody. Custody of the child, however, does not automatically pass to the other parent if the custodial parent dies. The courts will make decisions based on what is best for the child. In many circumstances, living with the non-custodial parent is the agreed-upon alternative, but in others, grandparents or another third party may assume custody.
#5. Emotional and physical changes in the parent
When deciding on an acceptable child custody arrangement, US family law takes the parent’s emotional and physical status into account. This is because the stability of the child’s home environment is regarded to have a large impact on the child’s stability. As a result, changes to this can be used to justify a custody change. Here are some examples of parental instability caused by mental and physical states:
- Severe mental health issues
- Abuse of drugs or alcohol
- Relocating and uprooting the child’s life on a regular basis
- History of criminal behavior
- Unemployment that persists
- Not having a place to reside
#6. The Child’s Requirements Have Changed
Just as the circumstances of the parents might change with time, so can the child’s requirements. A baby or small child will have quite different demands than a teenager. As a result, the optimum place for the youngster may change over time. For example, one parent may reside closer to a better school than the child aspires to attend, while the other parent lives too far away to be accepted as a student. If it can be demonstrated to the courts that the kid would benefit more from living with the other parent, the courts may grant a modification of child custody.
Another reason a judge will change custody is if the child’s emotional state has changed. If the child is suffering mentally, it may demonstrate to the courts that they are not in the best of circumstances. The judge will reconsider the situation and decide if the child would be better off living with the other parent.
#7. Neglect or Abuse of Children
The goal of a child custody agreement is to protect the child’s best interests. As a result, if the child is being abused, a judge will change custody. This usually results in the responsible parent losing custody and having their parental rights terminated. It is crucial to understand that the abuse does not have to be physical to qualify for a custody change. Custody rights can be revoked for verbal abuse that causes emotional distress, as well as physical abuse that causes minor or significant injuries and sexual assault.
Neglect can also result in the loss of child visiting privileges or complete custody. This is described as when a parent denies their child’s basic rights. Examples include failing to feed or bathe the child, leaving them home alone for extended periods of time, or failing to offer necessary medical treatment. The parent requesting the change of the order must provide documentation to the courts, which frequently includes testimony from eyewitnesses.
#8. Child Endangerment
A child might also be harmed indirectly rather than directly through abuse or neglect. For example, if there is marital violence in the household, the child is put in danger. Even if they have never been physically harmed and are not a victim of domestic violence, they are at a higher risk of physical harm. Furthermore, they will most certainly suffer from the mental impacts of witnessing violence in their family on a frequent basis. Drug misuse, psychotic breaks, unpredictable behavior, and repeated mental health hospitalizations are also examples of endangerment.
An emergency custody order can be issued if the child is believed to be in imminent danger. This serves as a temporary alteration of custody that can be implemented without notifying the other parent. It’s also a good idea to call the cops if things get out of hand and the child is in danger.
Reasons for Adjusting Parenting Time
When it comes to allowing requests to change parenting time, judges are a little more flexible. Even so, you’ll need proof that the change is important enough to necessitate a change in the current sequence.
#1. Disobeying the custody order on a regular basis
When one parent fails to adhere to the court-ordered timetable (and the parents are unable to reach an agreement), the other should present proof to the court.
The court will want to determine if the other parent is aware of the order, has the ability to comply with it, and has purposefully failed to do so.
Keep note of your parenting time as evidence.
If the other parent refuses to allow you to visit, you can call the police and show them your custody order. The police cannot enforce the order, but their report can show that the other parent refused a visit.
In extreme cases, the judge may even hold the other parent in contempt of court, in addition to imposing a new parenting plan.
#2. The recovery of a parent
Parents who engage in risky behavior are frequently subjected to conditions such as monitored visitation as part of their custody and parenting time order. If the parent improves their behavior, the court can lift these conditions. The parent may also be given more parenting time.
#3. The academic performance of the child
Poor grades are frequently indicative of issues at home or a need for further learning support.
They may also persuade a judge to approve a custody plan with fewer exchanges, so the youngster feels more at ease and has more time to accomplish schoolwork.
The court may also change physical custody if it determines that the other parent lives in a school district that is better suited to the child’s educational needs.
#4. The mental health of the child
Involving the child in parental disagreements might have a harmful impact on their mental and emotional wellbeing. If this occurs regularly, the judge may look into measures to limit contact between parents.
The judge may, for example, add monitored exchanges to the order, which would compel a third party to observe handoffs.
#5. The growth of the child
Children’s schedules tend to become busier as they become older. Because the visiting schedule may have an impact on the child’s social life and extracurricular activities, a judge may be inclined to modify it to meet the child’s schedule.
To prevent having to go to court to make such changes, consider developing a step-up parenting plan from the start of your case.
If the kid develops physical, mental, or emotional illnesses that one parent is more available or capable of handling, the court may even consider shifting custody.
Reasons for changing child support
A parent can request a support order modification if a change has a significant impact on their ability to pay or the amount they owe based on the state’s child support formula.
A parent losing a job, earning extra income, or obtaining more or less parenting time are all examples of qualifying changes.
If the new sum does not fulfill the child’s needs, the court is unlikely to approve the change.
Maintaining organization throughout the modification process
Modifying court orders might be just as difficult as obtaining them in the first place. Organization and planning are critical.
During your initial case, establish a parenting plan template that specifies how you’ll handle revisions.
Gather information after receiving directives to prepare for the possibility of amending. Keep a custody notebook, record talks with the other parent, and so on.
Child custody orders are live documents that can be changed if a proper modification lawsuit is filed. Prosecuting or defending against a change necessitates caution and competence. If a modification is requested and then denied, subsequent alterations will be more difficult (see above re: stability of a child). Thus, whether you are bringing a modification or defending against one, it is critical that the lawsuit is taken seriously and that all efforts are made to show the judge or jury reasons that the change in custody is in the best interests of the child[ren] moving forward.