When you and your child’s other parent get divorced or separate and ask a court to make a decision on a formal custody arrangement, you wind up with what’s usually called a permanent custody order. But despite the word “permanent”, it’s actually fairly common to re-negotiate custody or visitation arrangements over time. As your child grows older, things change. You or your child’s other parent may move or change jobs, your child may get involved with activities that interfere with previously agreed-upon visitation or custody arrangements, or your circumstances could change.
You can ask the court for a modification of the visitation schedule or custody agreement, and if the court agrees that the change is needed and is in the child’s best interest, they’ll make the changes. It’s important to get a formal modification instead of just agreeing between the two of you to do things differently – if an official change to the order is made, your ex can’t claim later that you’ve been violating the original agreement. But it’s important to avoid mistakes when asking for a modification – otherwise, you could waste time and money on a request that has no chance of being granted. Check out some of the things you should know before you ask the court to change your visitation or custody order.
Show The Court What’s Changed
Your original custody order was arranged the way that it was for a reason. Family courts understand that things change and that the custody arrangement that worked when you were parenting a 3-year-old might not still be ideal when you’re parenting a 13-year-old. But you still have to show some justification for the change that you’re asking for.
That means that you’ll need to show some documentation of your change in circumstances. So, for example, if you were not granted joint custody because you weren’t living in a place that was appropriate for a child, but you now have a home that’s safe and has space for your child, you’ll need to show the court proof of your move – your lease, for example. Or, if you want to switch from an every-other-weekend arrangement to an arrangement where you have your child for several weeks during school breaks because you have moved or will be moving far away, you’ll need to show proof of the move and the reason for the move – if you’ve been transferred at work, for example, the court might want to see your contract with your company.
Don’t Disobey Court Orders in the Meantime
Life often moves faster than court cases. It’s easy to get frustrated when your circumstances have changed but the court order has not yet. But it’s important to continue to abide by the original order as long as it remains in effect.
If you violate the original order, such as by refusing to relinquish the children to your ex when it’s their time with them, or showing up to pick up your kids when it’s not your time with them, the court can take action against you in order to enforce the order currently in place. Then, when you show up in court to ask for a modification, the judge may be less inclined to grant it – when you didn’t honor the original agreement, why should they honor your request? And why should they believe that you’ll honor a new agreement?
Following the terms of the original agreement helps you earn trust, both from the court and from your child’s other parent. Either or both are less likely to object to your request for a modification if you’ve shown that you can be trusted to hold up your end of a custody arrangement, so make every effort to stick to the terms of your original agreement until changes can be made.
Make Sure You’re Requesting Changes for the Right Reasons
When parents separate, there are often hurt feelings and anger on one or both sides. And unfortunately, one way that divorced or separated couples sometimes try to take out their anger on each other is by using their children, and their visitation and custody arrangements, against each other. In some cases, the hurt and anger and desire for retaliation can last years, and can spill over even into modifications of custody or visitation arrangements made years after the breakup.
However, it’s always a bad idea to try to use custody and visitation as a way to get revenge on your ex. For one thing, judges tend not to like having their courtrooms used as a tool to enact a personal vendetta. More importantly, though, this type of behavior is bad for your children. Custody and visitation arrangements should always be about what’s best for your child, not what’s best for you and certainly not what will most effectively hurt your ex. Chances are, if you’re doing something that hurts your child’s other parent, you are also hurting your child, and that’s certainly not in their best interests.
Usually, courts can see through custody modification requests that are really just veiled attacks by one parent on the other. Of course, there are always exceptions, but you should generally assume that you won’t get away with using a custody modification as a weapon against your child’s other parent. Give some real thought to your reasons and motivations for requesting a modification. You’re much more likely to get what you want if you want it for the right reasons – because you want to do what’s best for your child – rather than the wrong reasons.
In many cases, custody modifications can be relatively simple arrangements. Sometimes, both parents can even agree that a change is needed, which can make the court’s job much simpler. You don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money on a lawyer to modify a family court order. A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you file the correct paperwork, find and submit the right documentation, and represent yourself in family court.