One of the most challenging parts of raising children as a divorced couple is figuring out what type of custody arrangement will best serve the needs of your children. Because these needs - and the needs and lives of parents - change over time, it is often necessary to modify an existing custody order.
However, the state of Texas has issued several conditions that must be met before it will change an existing custody and visitation agreement. Depending on the level of conflict, changing an order can be relatively easy, or challenging and time consuming - much like working out an original custody arrangement.
The easy way
While change is never easy, it is less complex when everyone is in agreement regarding the required modification. Either parent can file a petition that will change the initial custody order, but if both parents are on the same page regarding what that change should be, a judge can simply sign off on the new agreement.
However, even when parents agree it is important to work with a skilled family law attorney. A lawyer can help parents who are mostly in agreement work through any sticking points and create the new parenting plan with the least amount of disruption to their child's lives.
When there's less agreement
Oftentimes, it is one parent who wants a custody modification while the other wants things to remain as they are. Or, both parents may want to modify the existing agreement but may have vastly different views on what the new arrangement should be.
There are many reasons why one parent may suddenly want more access to their child, or may want to limit their child's exposure to the other parent. For example:
A parent who had struggled with addiction, but had successfully completed a treatment program and proving themselves to be more responsible may want more access. Alternatively, a parent may develop a drug or alcohol issue and the other parent may want to limit their child's exposure to this parent.
A parent who had spent time living out of state, or in a different city, but who has moved to a community closer to their child may want to spend more time with their child, or vice versa.
As children age, they may prefer to divide their time more equally between their parents' households, or may prefer to switch from living exclusively with one parent to the other.
When parties are not in full agreement, the parent requesting the modification must prove to the court that the proposed change is in the best interests of the child(ren). In addition, the requesting parent also must show:
- The circumstances of either the child or their parents have substantially and material changed since the existing custody order went into effect.
- The requesting parent has retained primary custody of the child, with the other parent's permission, for at least six months.
- The child is at least 12 years old, and is prepared to tell the judge, in chambers, that he or she wants to live with the requesting parent.
Because frequent changes in a child's living arrangement may be disruptive, the courts are careful not to make major changes within the same year. However, if the child's physical health or emotional development is being impaired by their current living situation, or the custodial parent agrees to the change, and it is seen as being in the best interest of the child, courts will make an exception.
Regardless of whether the decision to modify a child custody order is something everyone agrees to or not, having an attorney is helpful to make sure the process goes smoothly, and assure the change has been thoroughly considered before petitioning the court.