Reasons a Judge Will Change Custody or Child Support

Child custody and child support orders are subject to change.

Perhaps the current schedule no longer works or the details of your order no longer suit your maturing child.

At this point, parents can negotiate a new parenting plan and submit it to the court for approval. (The court won't be able to enforce the plan unless it's approved.)

If parents can't negotiate successfully, either one can ask the court to modify the order. Then the other parent gets a chance to contest, and the judge makes the final decision.

No matter your situation, the court will only approve an order modification when it's in the best interest of the child.

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Reasons to modify child custody

There are two types of custody: physical custody and legal custody.

For the court to modify either one, a significant change — for better or worse — must have directly affected the child's well-being.

Here are the changes most likely to cause a judge to modify custody. Keep in mind that the court may order a custody evaluation to assess your situation.

Child abuse, neglect, abandonment or abduction

If it's proven a parent has abused, neglected, abandoned or abducted their child, they'll likely lose custody. The court might even terminate their parental rights.

On the other hand, making false allegations can also provide grounds for losing custody.

Abuse takes on many forms: physical, mental, sexual, etc. Anything that jeopardizes the child's well-being could be classified as abuse. This includes domestic violence in the child's home, even if the child is not the victim.

Neglect is when a parent fails to perform basic caretaking duties for their child (e.g., bathing and feeding).

Abandonment is when a parent does not contact or make an effort to contact their child for an extended period of time.

Parental child abduction (a form of parental kidnapping) is when a parent hides, takes or keeps their child from the other parent in violation of the custody order.

You'll need proof if you plan to claim that any of these offenses have occurred, since each one can lead to a criminal case.

If your child's in immediate danger, you can request an emergency custody order.

Long-distance relocation

Most commonly, the court adjusts parenting time (more below) instead of changing custody when the custodial parent relocates. However, long-distance moves, particularly out-of-state moves, may prompt the court to change custody.

States generally have laws about what the custodial parent must do before relocating. They often require the parent to propose a long-distance parenting plan and have a good reason for the move. The noncustodial parent can submit their own proposal if they disagree.

If the custodial parent is moving to keep the child away from the other parent, the court is unlikely to allow it.

Increasing instability

A parent's substance abuse issues or severe mental health difficulties could cause the court to take their custodial rights. Other examples of unstable behavior include emotional outbursts, frequent moves and criminal activity.

Death of a parent

When the custodial parent dies, full custody typically goes to the noncustodial parent. However, it may go to a third party, such as the child's grandparents, if the noncustodial parent is unfit or has a busy schedule that means they can't take care of the child full time.

How do I get custody of my child back?

To get custody back, you'll have to show you've corrected the behavior that caused you to lose custody. It's best to hire a lawyer, as they will be able to advise you on the evidence you can gather to prove your case.

Witnesses will be a key element, since they can attest to the fact that you've changed. These can include counselors, doctors, parole officers and relatives. Some judges accept character reference letters, which allow a witness to explain why they believe you're fit for custody.

If you've lost parental rights, you're unlikely to get them back. In some jurisdictions, if the state is unable to find a suitable place for your child to live, you can get your rights back if it's in the child's best interest.

Reasons to modify parenting time

Judges are a little more lenient when it comes to approving requests to change parenting time. Still, you'll need proof that the change is significant enough to require a change to the current order.

Frequent disobedience of the custody order

When one parent isn't following the ordered schedule (and the parents can't figure out a solution together), the other should go to the court with evidence.

The court will want to know that the other parent is aware of the order, has the ability to follow it and intentionally failed to do so.

As evidence, track your parenting time.

If the other parent denies you visits, you can also can call the police and show your custody order. The police cannot enforce the order, but their report can prove the other parent disallowed a visit.

For severe issues, the judge may even hold the other parent in contempt of court, in addition to issuing a new parenting schedule.

A parent's recovery

Parents who behave in unsafe ways often have conditions like supervised visitation attached to their custody and parenting time order. The court can lift these conditions if the parent improves their behavior. The parent might also get more parenting time.

The child's school performance

Poor grades often signify problems at the child's home or a need for more learning support.

They might also convince a judge to order a custody schedule with fewer exchanges, so the child feels more settled and has more time to do schoolwork.

The court could also change physical custody if it finds the other parent lives in a school district better equipped to handle the child's learning needs.

The child's mental health

Involving the child in parental disputes can negatively impact their mental and emotional health. If this happens frequently, the judge may find ways to minimize contact between parents.

For example, the judge could add supervised exchanges to the order, which require a third party to monitor handoffs.

The child's development

Children's schedules typically become busier as the children get older. Since the visitation schedule can affect the child's social life and extracurriculars, a judge may be willing to adjust it to accommodate the child's schedule.

To avoid going to court to make such adjustments, consider creating a step-up parenting plan from the outset of your case.

The court might even consider changing custody if the child develops physical, mental or emotional disorders that one parent is more available or capable of handling.

Reasons to modify child support

A parent can ask for a support order modification if a change considerably affects their ability to pay or how much they owe according to the state's child support formula.

Qualifying changes include a parent losing a job, earning extra income or receiving more or less parenting time.

The court is unlikely to approve the change if the new amount would not meet the child's needs.

Staying organized through the modification process

Modifying court orders can be as complicated as getting them in the first place. Organization and preparation are essential.

During your initial case, create a parenting plan that explains how you'll handle modifications.

After you get orders, gather information to prepare for the possibility of modifying. Track parenting time, keep a custody journal, save conversations with the other parent, etc.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of this in one place.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of your custody situation from the very beginning until your children become adults.

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