If you and your child’s other parent are divorcing, legally separating, or otherwise splitting from each other romantically, you may be feeling a great deal of anxiety about the child custody process. If you and your child’s other parent already have a child custody order in place, you may have concerns about how you are supposed to navigate changes in your family’s circumstances moving forward. In either case, it is important to understand that child custody orders—once effective—can be modified. However, it is also important to understand that they can only be modified under certain circumstances.
Mutually Agreed Upon Modifications
Once a child custody order is entered by the court, it can potentially be modified upon mutual agreement of both parents. Similarly, parenting plan modifications may be made by mutual agreement and notice of the modification in question submitted to the court. The formal procedures associated with modification by mutual agreement vary across the U.S. However, it is generally accepted that if a child’s legally recognized co-parents mutually agree to a particular modification that the court overseeing the case in question will honor that modification.
Take care to notify your lawyer if you want to make a mutually agreed upon modification to an existing order, though. If you don’t take proper steps to formalize the modification, it may not be legally enforceable. This could leave you vulnerable to challenging consequences should your co-parent ever “change their mind” about your agreement.
Unilateral Modification Requests
If either you or your co-parent wishes to modify your child custody order or parenting plan, it is possible to accomplish this goal without securing the mutual agreement of the other party. However, as an experienced family lawyer – including those who practice at The Law Office of Daniel J. Wright – can confirm, there are specific standards that must be met before a judge will approve of a modification that isn’t made by mutual assent.
First, the modification must reflect the best interests of the child. This is the legal standard by which all child custody disputes in the U.S. are settled.
Second, a significant change in circumstances must have occurred since the original order was made. Why? The courts like to guard against co-parents hauling each other into court over relatively minor disputes. Only when significant time has passed since the original order was entered and/or a significant change of circumstance has occurred, will a court honor a modification request made in a child’s best interests.