When parents get divorced and child custody orders are created, they often come with a sense of finality and permanence. It is important for the whole family to know what to expect when it comes to where and with whom the children will live, and these orders provide much-needed stability.
That being said, child custody rulings are not always fixed until the children reach adulthood. Courts understand that needs and circumstances change, and custody orders need to be adaptable in order to continue meeting the best interests of children. Under the right conditions, orders can be modified.
Changes in Parental Circumstances
Parents may be able to petition the court to modify custody if there has been a substantial change in the personal or professional circumstances of one or both parents. This could include:
- A major long-term change in work schedule that would impact one parent’s ability to spend time with and care for the kids
- One parent’s need or choice to move out of state or a significant distance away from the other parent (commonly known as move-away cases)
- A change in one parent’s living situation that makes it unhealthy, unsafe or otherwise unfit for the child to be there
Changes in Child Needs or Circumstances
The needs of children often change over time. If they change significantly enough that one parent cannot meet them, it may be time to modify the custody order. Examples of a substantial change include:
- Development of a serious medical condition and related treatment
- Special medical needs that cannot be met by one parent
- The child’s need to change schools, especially if doing so requires a relocation
Custody can also sometimes be modified when there is a major shift in the relational dynamics between co-parents or between child and parent. If one parent stops abiding by the current custody order, for instance, the other parent can likely petition for a change in custody.
If there is a major falling out between the child and one parent, it may be in the child’s best interests to modify the order. Because some conflict is inevitable as children grow, however, the standard for modification would be quite high in the last example mentioned.
If your parenting schedule is currently dictated by a court order and you believe that a change is necessary and appropriate, please contact an experienced family law attorney to discuss your rights and legal options.