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Modifying a child custody agreement

During the course of your divorce proceedings, you may have felt inundated by issues that needed to be resolved in short order: child custody and support, housing considerations, asset division and career matters. At the time, you thought that the custody agreement was specific enough in how it addressed future conflicts. Now you realize that there are aspects of your new life that the custody agreement does not cover. You realize that your decision to request a modification of custody is not one to be taken lightly. The process is complex and may cause conflict with your former spouse, but you feel that the change will be beneficial.

While family court allows parents to modify visitation guidelines without requiring evidence that a change in circumstances warrants an alteration, the same standard does not apply for modifying custody orders. Changing custody agreements will not be allowed unless a parent can prove a significant change in family circumstances has taken place. We have discussed court-approved reasons for requesting a custody change: deployment of a parent, the wishes of the child and relocation of a parent.

In order for the court to sanction a revision of the custody agreement, there are steps that you will have to follow.

1. File your petition in court

In the event that your former spouse does not agree to modify the agreement, a petition must be filed in the appropriate venue. You will need to present your request in the court where the original arraignment was decided. If your child has moved out of the region, it will be necessary to file a motion in the original court and then request to transfer your case to the court closest to your child's new home. Matters of custody are the responsibility of the county where the child resides.

After the appropriate court has received the petition, you will be able to ask for a temporary change in custody, request evidence from your former spouse and ask to schedule a final hearing. Much of this process is similar to the steps followed in the original custody hearing.

2. Present your case in court

As with the original custody arraignment, the court will use the standard of the best interests of the child to determine how the custody agreement should be altered. When the court is considering modification of child custody; however, the parent seeking the alteration must prove that it is in the best interest of the child to move out of one home and into another. Typically, the courts prefer to keep living arrangements stable to ensure a continuity of care. Shifting living arrangements can be disruptive.

3. Create a written order to modify custody

After the court renders its decision, you should have a written order on hand to be approved by the court. The order should reveal the court's ruling on the custody modification. Parents who do not have a court-mandated order on file often find it difficult to enforce the order.

As with the first custody agreement, the modified custody arrangement should be as specific as possible. Those seeking a modification are advised to seek out the guidance of a knowledgeable attorney to determine the best course of action to follow in this process.

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