There can be many reasons you might seek to change a child custody agreement that was previously ordered by the court. If circumstances change as the child grows, the custody order in place may no longer reflect their best interests or meet the needs of your family. However, if you and your spouse can reach a compromise regarding custody outside the courtroom, you may be able to avoid the lengthy litigation process and could potentially change your child custody agreement without court.
What is a Child Custody Order?
If you and your partner are divorcing or separating, and you share children, you will need to have a custody arrangement and a parenting time plan in place. Custody comes in two parts: physical and legal. Physical custody refers to where the children reside, and legal custody refers to decision-making authority on behalf of the children. Either type of custody can be sole, and belong to one parent, and shared between both parents.
If you and your spouse agree on every aspect of custody and visitation, the judge will review the agreement to ensure it is in the best interests of the child. Once it is signed by the judge, it will become a legally enforceable order. But if custody is contested and the parents cannot resolve their disputes outside of court, the judge will render a decision based on the facts of your specific situation.
When Can a Custody Agreement Be Modified?
Once a custody order has been entered by the court, parents cannot take it upon themselves to change it. You must obtain a new order, or modification, through the court. However, this doesn’t always mean that you will need to spend time and money on litigation. If you and your spouse come to an agreement through mediation or on your own, you can request that the judge issue an order reflecting the new agreement. It’s important to understand that until the judge issues an order, the new agreement is not legally effective.
Generally, a court may consider changing a custody order when there is a permanent substantial change in circumstances and a modification would be in the best interests of the child. Some common reasons a parent may ask the court to change an existing custody order can include:
- Parental behavior or lifestyle puts the child at risk of harm
- One of the parents cannot provide a stable home environment
- A parent moves out of the state or country
- The child has special needs or schooling requirements
- One parent regularly fails to abide by the custody agreement
- Either parent intentionally prevents the child from seeing the other
- The physical health of a parent has changed
- Work schedule changes
Sometimes a parent may contest a modification request brought by the other parent. In these cases, the judge will weigh the evidence and evaluate the situation to determine whether a change in the custody arrangement would be in the child’s best interests.
Changing Your Child Custody Agreement Without Court
If you and the child’s other parent are working toward reaching a custody modification agreement outside of court, it’s imperative to ensure that you avoid any potential pitfalls. It is crucial to know that any verbal agreement you enter into outside of court cannot be enforced by a judge. In other words, if one parent decides they no longer want to abide by the new verbal agreement, you would not be able to ask the court to enforce it.
Additionally, even though the new agreement might seem to be working out for a while, if a parent begins to overstep their boundaries, you would not have any legal protections in place. Even the most amicable situations can take a turn for the worst when ex-spouses begin to disagree about custody. This is why any agreement worked out between parents outside of court must be brought before a judge.
How to Obtain a Custody Modification
If you’re seeking to change an existing child custody order and want to ensure it is legally enforceable, you will need to petition the court. You can do this at any time after the original order was put into effect as long as you can show a substantial change in circumstances. Along with your request for the modification, you may also submit a Child Custody and Visitation Application outlining the details of the parenting plan.
After you have provided the court with your forms, the clerk will give you a hearing date. You must also serve the papers on the other parent and submit proof of service to the court. In some cases, the court may require you to attend mediation. If the new custody arrangement can be worked out there, the mediator will assist with drafting a modification order that the judge can review and sign. Otherwise, the judge will decide the outcome upon hearing the case.
Contact a Knowledgeable Fresno Family Law Attorney
If you are considering a child custody modification, it’s essential to have the guidance of an experienced family law attorney to protect your legal rights. The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks offers capable counsel and skillful representation for even the most contentious custody matters, with a strategic focus on achieving the best possible results.
The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks has been helping clients throughout Frenso and the surrounding area with their divorce and family law matters for over 20 years. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559) 272-8359.