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Considerations When Seeking The Modification Of A Custody Order

Establishing legal boundaries isn’t easy when determining the custody of a child. Things can become heated while two parents or other family members, go back and forth to determine what is best for the child.

Custody battles can be lengthy, grueling processes for all involved.

The same difficulties can apply when it comes to modifying custody orders. It’s not uncommon for a parent or both parents to seek changes to their existing custody orders.

There are some important considerations to be addressed before making this big decision. First, let’s talk about why people decide to seek the modification of a custody order.

Why Do People Seek Custody Modifications?

There are many reasons why a parent might want to revisit the potentially contentious process that resulted in the original custody orders. Sometimes both parents come to a consensus on changes to their child’s custody status and they decide to make a new agreement.

Other times, a parent feels circumstances have changed to a degree that dictates a new agreement.

Whether one, or both, parents agree on the necessity of a modification, all parties involved should ask themselves a number of questions before proceeding. Depending on a variety of factors, a modification can be a big undertaking and result in a new normal for families.

Potential Changes Influencing Parents’ Decisions

You will need to give specifics on the desired changes if you wish to modify a custody order.

If you think you should be awarded more custody of your child, then you must ask yourself exactly what has changed since the original decision was made.

After all, you will likely be asked the same questions by a family court.

Is it Best For Your Child?

The most important question to ask in the process of a modification is whether the change is best for the child.

At different stages in life, children need different things from their parents.

This is a key consideration.

However, it’s also of the utmost importance to determine whether or not that parent is capable of actually providing those things.

It can be difficult for any parent to know what is best for a child, but parents need to be as sure as they possibly can be that what they’re seeking is in keeping with their child’s best interests.

Have There Been Lifestyle Changes That Warrant a Modification?

When one parent was denied custody because of a criminal record or a history of substance abuse, for example, that parent might seek a modification if they have significantly changed their lifestyle.

Compliance with any court-ordered rehabilitation programs and a consistent employment history might have an impact on how a family court views the ability of a parent to provide adequate care for their child.

It can take time, discipline and patience for the parent to prove their lifestyle changes are sufficient.

Are There New Marriages or Partnerships Involved?

People form new bonds and relationships, and that can create a more or less stable environment for a child.

A parent seeking to modify a custody order might have to prove to family courts their relationship provides a healthy environment for their child.

Conversely, one parent might need to prove to the courts the other parent’s new relationship is detrimental or even dangerous to the child.

Has There Been A Change in Health Conditions?

A parent’s physical or emotional state of health has a bearing on how the court views their ability to take care of a child.

A parent might seek to prove their fitness through doctors’ reports or by establishing another verifiable record of these changes.

The same is true if a child has improved or deteriorated health conditions that could alter their needs.

If you are a stepparent assigned with guardianship of a minor (e.g. stepchild) or incapacitated individual (e.g. spouse) you are required to obtain a surety bond to protect the minor or incapacitated individual you have guardianship over. If you do not fulfill your duties according to the court’s order a claim can be made. For example, if you steal money from a minor’s or spouse’s trust you have guardianship over a claim can be made.

You can seek the help of a surety company that can guide you in getting a guardianship bond. How much does a surety bond cost? Guardianship bond costs vary by the applicant, bond amount, bond type and agency you choose.

Is the Child Old Enough to Have a Preference in Their Custody?

As children get older, they might also be more vocal in their preference for the modification of custody.

If the child is an adolescent or a teenager, then their preferences start to have more weight with the family court.

These preferences must also be balanced with a parent’s history of personal responsibility regarding their overall ability to provide adequate care for their child.

Are You Planning On Relocating?

If members of a family choose to relocate, it can impact the amount of time one parent might be able to spend with that child. This can sometimes be an issue of contention with the other parent.

If the relocation is due to a new job, for example, courts will often look at factors like possible changes in income and job stability to determine if relocation warrants any changes to a custody order.

Courts will sometimes set limits on where a parent is allowed to move.

For example, some orders limit any moves out of state. If a parent wishes to modify an order to move out of state, they will need to prove the move is in the child’s best interest.

Has a Violation Occurred?

When a parent violates the terms stipulated in the original custody order, it can have a big impact on the consideration of the court. It’s often the responsibility of the parent seeking the change to provide the court with evidence of the violation, which can be difficult.

Coming to a Consensus

When both parents agree on a modification, it makes the process much easier. Before consenting to another parent’s wishes, a parent should be certain of their decision. For those who are hoping to grant the other parent more custody, for example, the above questions will still need to be considered.

Time may heal wounds and help us move past previous disputes, but does that mean the situation has actually changed?

This is often a difficult issue a parent must consider before consenting to a modification.

When a child’s well being is at stake, it’s important parents ask themselves these big questions and be confident in their decisions. A child custody modification can result in major life changes for all of those involved. It’s best to discuss modifications with both your family and legal representatives before moving forward.

About The Author

Rebekah Damen Lusk is a practicing attorney and partner in the law firm Thienel & Lusk LLC.  In addition to family law, Rebekah specializes in business, employment, landlord/tenant, real estate, civil litigation, equine and animal law. When not practicing law, Rebekah enjoys horse riding on her farm. She is also an active leader in raising money in the fight against breast cancer.

Thienel & Lusk, LLC provides experienced counsel throughout Maryland for many areas of the law, including family law, divorce, landlord/tenant, mergers and acquisitions, business matters and litigation, tax, real estate and estate planning. Contact us today to learn how we can help you with your legal needs.

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