A child custody order issued by a family court judge is binding. This means that any modification can only be approved by the courts. There are several circumstances that may necessitate modification of child custody or visitation rights. A lot can change after a divorce. Matters such as education and medical treatment can pose challenges under the current order. You can also feel that the best interests of the child are not well served by the existing arrangement. If you, believe that you have grounds to petition for a custody modification, then it wise to consult with a child custody modification lawyer.
The process of modification
When you file a petition for modification, you need to demonstrate to the court that there has been a substantial change of circumstances to warrant a modification. This is the first threshold that must be met. The purpose of this is to weed out disgruntled parents who may simply want to modify the agreement because they are angry at the other party, or in an effort to harass the other parent. A child custody hearing is not automatically granted before establishing good grounds.
What is considered as a substantial change of circumstances?
• One parent wants to move away, or a non-custodial parent is moving closer.
• The child wishes to spend more time or live with the non-custodial parent.
• The parent with more custody rights is unreliable, abusive or neglectful.
• The work schedule of either of the parents has changed significantly.
The second part of the process is for the courts to determine best interests of the child. While proving a change of circumstance is essential, the judge must establish how the changes affect the best interests of the child. In New York, for example, the following factors are considered when establishing best interests.
• The stability of the child.
• A conducive home environment.
• The fitness of the parents in raising the child.
• The willingness of the parents to maintain a healthy relationship for the sake of the child.
Why do I need to go to court for a modification?
If former spouses are co-parenting amicably, then there is always the temptation to work out new custody agreements outside of court. While the law does not stop you from doing this, an informal arrangement can create complications in future. First, you need to remember that the court cannot enforce an informal agreement. In case you develop issues along the way, the courts will revert to the original order. It is very possible for the other party to decide that they will not honor the new arrangement you made. By law, they are justified to do this. It is advisable to have any amendments legally modified. A change of heart on the other party can cause problems that can be avoided if you follow the court process. A court process is the surest way to protect your rights legally. This way, the courts will fully back you if the other party does not honor their end of the deal.
How can a lawyer help in a child custody modification?
As discussed, the courts cannot simply grant a modification without good reasons. It is wise to consult with a lawyer to seek advice on whether your circumstances warrant a court modification. The expertise of a lawyer can also prove helpful in drafting a new agreement. It is possible to overlook certain changes that may happen in the future. Child custody lawyers have dealt with many issues, and they understand the pitfalls and issues that can easily be omitted. In addition to this, the petition for modification must be filed in court, and the lawyer can help you do it right.