Under What Circumstances Will The Courts Modify A Child Custody Order?

There is a common misbelief that no changes can be made to a child custody order once the court has made their decision. In actuality, either party can go to the court to ask for a modification to the order, post-judgment, and depending on the situation, the court may approve and enforce the modification. In fact, child custody and spousal/child support can all be revised, but many confuse division of marital property and assets, which are not modifiable, with these.

Generally speaking, there are two sets of circumstances that are substantial enough to be just cause for modification, and these are when A) a parent violates a court order, and B) when either, or both, of the spouses claim that recent conditions call for a modification.

When a parent violates a court order, the spouse bringing the claim to court is “burdened” with the responsibility to present evidence that the violation occurred. In addition, violating a court order is enough to have one held in contempt of court, and the moving party can seek that the other parent is indeed held in contempt, although a parent who violates a visitation order will usually be found in contempt of court anyway. But this finding of contempt alone will not lead to a modification to the order, and sometimes require that the violation of the visitation agreement has brought about new circumstances, which moving forward will require a change to the order.

Changed circumstances sounds a bit broad, so for clarity, keep in mind that these changed circumstances must also “adversely affect the child”. The threshold for “adverse affect” is not child endangerment, but to preserve the best interests of the child. Also, if a change in circumstance has a positive benefit on the child, like a dangerous parent leaving a child’s life, a modification might be made to ensure this new circumstance is permanent. On the flip side, if a parent gets their personal life together and establishes a healthy, beneficial relationship with the child, a change in child custody and visitation might be made to bring them back into the child’s life. However, bringing a parent back into a child’s life after they have been ordered to keep their distance is a delicate process, and once again, it is up to the court to decide whether reintroducing the parent is in the best interest of the child.

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