Family court is notorious for its challenging and tedious nature. Many parents quickly become disillusioned after a divorce ruling, thinking they have to settle for a custody situation they’re unhappy with. Many are left wondering: how hard is it to modify child custody? How can a non-custodial parent get custody?
Table of Contents
- 1 Reasons For Seeking Custody Modification
- 2 Preparing for Your Custody Modification Case
- 3 What Does The Court Consider in a Custody Modification Case?
- 4 How to Manifest Good Overall Character
- 5 Documents That Can Help You Win a Custody Modification Case
- 6 Can A Judge Deny A Child Support Modification?
- 7 Final Thoughts
Reasons For Seeking Custody Modification
There are many reasons to seek custody modification, whether for the emotional/physical safety of the child or because one parent moves or changes careers. A judge always awards custody based on what they perceive to be the best interests of the child, but those interests can change over time. When circumstances are altered, custody changes might need to be made to ensure the child’s environment and support remain stable.
Custody modifications can be an uphill battle. You need to be fully aware of your situation, which includes having an experienced family lawyer on your side. Even if you believe your custody modification request to be an open and shut case, there are many things that can go sideways.
The court does not frivolously change custody orders, and they take challenges to existing orders seriously. Requesting a custody modification means proving that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred, and that this change is detrimental to the child’s best interests.
Abuse or Neglect From Custodial Parent
The judge will always consider the child’s preference, but abuse or neglect takes precedence over all other evidence. Ultimately, the child has no right to choose custody, and the judge will determine the best environment for them. Children’s preferences can be ignored if they go against the child’s best interests, especially if there is evidence of abuse.
When your lawyer is presenting a case for custody modification, you will need evidence to sway the court. If you claim your ex is being abusive or neglectful, you must be able to prove this allegation. The judge will ask for medical records, witness statements, police reports, photos, videos, texts, emails, voice messages, and other pieces of factual evidence.
Proving abuse or neglect is a certainty that the custody modification will be awarded, but it also means that there could be an investigation into the other parent. Depending on the severity of the abuse from your ex-spouse, the judge could award you sole custody.
A key component in a judge awarding a child custody modification is proof that one parent’s financial situation has changed substantially. In a large percentage of cases, a successful modification occurs when something major changes in the custodial parent’s life, such as their finances greatly increasing or decreasing. If the custodial parent’s financial situation decreases, such as losing their job or spending their finances on something frivolous, the judge might establish these facts as reasons to support a custody change. There can also be several less serious incidents that interfere with parenting time and affect modification, such as a continued inability to provide the child with food, clothing, school supplies, etc.
The court will examine each parent’s financial stability in regard to the child’s needs. While income and financial stability might not be the sole factor a judge examines, it could be the deciding point in conjunction with other factors such as stability, childcare arrangements, physical and mental health, and the child’s overall preference.
Custodial Parent Physical or Mental Health
Any increasing instability is reason enough for a judge to consider custody modification, which includes physical or mental changes in a custodial parent’s overall health. There are a number of factors that can contribute to a change in a parent’s physical or mental health, including substance abuse issues and efforts to combat mental health problems. Unstable behavior can include emotional outbursts, radical changes in stability, neglecting the child, not providing food or hygiene materials, job instability, and more.
Preparing for Your Custody Modification Case
Preparing for your modification case can be daunting, and requires filing paperwork, assembling evidence, and presenting yourself in the best way possible. To win a custody modification case you need to present strong evidence that will sway the judge, but the evidence must also be entered in an admissible format that will benefit your child. Gathering evidence is time-consuming and exhausting, but building a strong base is the best way to sway the judge in your favor and find a successful outcome.
Your family law attorney will help you build your case and assemble proper evidence. If you believe your co-parent has become unfit in any way, you will need to collect evidence that can be presented in court, including keeping records of their actions and documenting the abuse. Keep a record of call logs, texts, exchanges, and things observed during visitations. You should also keep track of your child’s behavior, including their emotional state and any evidence of dips in academic performance.
As always, you should avoid any direct confrontations with your ex-spouse. Any disagreements should be civil, as you need to show the judge your character. Your attorney can serve as your mediator and help you negotiate if your ex-spouse has become vitriolic and unreasonable.
Anyone in your child’s life might be able to provide evidence and context for your case, including teachers, relatives, neighbors, and colleagues. It’s paramount that you create a stable, safe, and welcoming environment for your child so that you can show the court that you take any suggested custody changes seriously. Always provide your attorney with the details of your case and any changes that occur; your family law attorney will help you make any decisions in regard to preparing for your case.
Gathering evidence for the modification
Gathering evidence for your child custody modification case can be exhausting, but it is paramount to the success of the case. You will need to provide substantial evidence to prove that any change to the custody agreement is in the child’s best interests. Your attorney can show you how to file a parenting plan modification.
You might have to present evidence including:
- Medical records if you are arguing on behalf of the child’s health
- School records to demonstrate any deteriorating academic performance
- Therapy session records based on your child’s fluctuating emotional state
- Calls, emails, or text records that establish any changes in visitation or communication rights
- Documentation or forms of evidence that help you build a strong case such as photos, videos, letters, bank statements, etc.
Filing The Modification Request
Any parent seeking a change to the court-ordered child custody agreement should file a petition with the court. Depending on your county, the cost of the filing fee might vary—it can be anywhere from $56 up to $260 if you are out of county. After you file, the court will schedule an adequate cause hearing, where your attorney will explain to the court why you are seeking a custody order modification.
Your attorney can draft and submit the paperwork on your behalf if you are nervous about it being completed correctly. After the first hearing is scheduled, you will have a chance to show your evidence for why you’re requesting the change, including arguing on your behalf. The judge will then review all the presented information and determine whether or not the custody modification is in the child’s best interests.
There are a number of resources available that can help you understand your case, including child custody modification FAQs in Washington State.
Hiring The Right Attorney
The right attorney can make a big difference in the success or failure of your case, from handling mediation with your ex-spouse to ensuring that the correct paperwork is filed on time. Your attorney can help you should any necessary compromises arise, and they can present your case on your behalf to the judge. A family law attorney can be a great asset, from helping you gather evidence to helping you understand how to reverse sole custody.
You should ensure that your family law attorney has access to all pertinent information for your case, including physical evidence and supporting documents. The more information your attorney has, the more easily they can assist you with your case and prepare you for a successful outcome.
Demonstrating Substantial Changes
A change in circumstances is required for any court to grant a change in a child custody case. In any controversial case, consideration for a child’s welfare is the number one factor. If you are presenting your case before the court, the judge will require you to demonstrate substantial changes. Any custody decision will greatly impact all areas of a child’s life, such as their physical and emotional well-being, their access to recreational and spiritual activities, financial stability, fitness, and attitude.
Any party seeking a change bears the burden of showing changed circumstances. The circumstances necessitating the change in custody must be substantially within the best interests of the child.
While the law is vague on what changes are in a child’s best interest, you should not be vague in your arguments before the court. A family court judge will carry tremendous discretion in your case, and will greatly weigh the proof brought before them.
Focusing On The Child’s Well-Being
As we’ve established above, the child’s best interests are key to any changes in a custody agreement. The requested changes can’t be temporary, and any proposed solutions must serve the child’s well-being. Sometimes these changes must be enacted based on dramatic circumstances, such as if one parent is going to jail or if there has been a prolonged period of unemployment.
Courts favor custodial continuity. They are looking to place the child in a stable environment, which means they will strongly consider any modification motion if it can be proved that their current environment has become unstable.
There are a few things a judge might consider on a child’s behalf:
- Each parent’s agreement to the modification
- A child’s integration into the family member requesting custody
- A child’s current home environment
- Any changes harmful to the child’s physical, emotional, or mental health
- Whether either parent has been found in contempt
- Any failures to comply with the court’s parenting plan
- If either parent has interfered with the other parent’s custody or visitation rights
- Any disruptions to a child’s living arrangements.
What Does The Court Consider in a Custody Modification Case?
The court takes any modification requests very seriously and does not temporarily or frivolously grant requests to custody orders. You must prove that there have been substantial changes that have affected your child’s well-being.
There are a number of circumstantial changes a judge might consider in a custody modification case:
- One parent is abusing drugs or shows signs of alcoholism
- Any abuse, neglect, or domestic violence
- One parent shows signs of a mental health crisis or other serious illness
- The child is diagnosed with a mental health disorder or serious illness
- One parent repeatedly interferes with scheduled visitation time
- One parent is moving to another city or state
- One parent has been charged with a crime or is going to jail
- Either parent shows signs of child endangerment
While some of these situations might require immediate action from the court, such as anything that places your child in harm’s way, most cases will allow you to proceed slowly and gather evidence to properly back up your claim. You should always consult with an experienced family law attorney before seeking any modifications to the custody agreement.
Any changes to an existing custody agreement will require strong evidence. It’s important that you take your time gathering evidence to bring before the court, and that your attorney helps you present this evidence in such a way that the judge is sympathetic to your appeal. If you claim your ex-spouse is abusing drugs, you must be able to back up this statement with proper evidence.
As discussed above, there are a number of things you can gather to strengthen your case before the court, such as photos and videos, police reports, emails, and voice messages. The more you can bring before the court, the stronger your case will be. If your child isn’t in immediate danger, the more time you spend gathering substantial evidence will be in your favor.
Child’s Preferences me Safe
While a child’s preferences do matter, any minor does not have a final choice in where their custody resides. The court might ignore a child’s preferences if they feel they might go against the child’s best interests; any court will grant substantial weight to older children while they might reconsider the desires of younger children. There are any number of factors that can influence a young child’s preferences, and those might not always rest with the parents. There are other factors the judge will consider, such as school location, relationships, and environment.
You cannot simply state before the court that changes have occurred—you must prove any changes with clear evidence that will sway the court. You need high-quality evidence that falls in your favor.
The easiest way to win a modification case is to show that your ex-spouse agrees with the changes. In any best-case scenario, you can jointly present a new custody plan that’s been examined and arranged by your respective attorneys. This should be notarized and witnessed as to prove that no coercion has occurred.
When the courts have ruled in your ex-spouse’s favor based on elements in your lifestyle, you must show marketed improvements and provide solid evidence that things have changed. This can include gaining stable employment, wage increases, long-term changes or personal progression, improved living conditions, and other factors.
Because any court will award custody modification based on the child’s best interests, the most important element in winning your case is proving it’s for the child’s wellbeing. This can include proof of better education opportunities, a more stable environment, or a safer home.
It can be difficult to understand which evidence is more prescient or stronger in any case, which is why you need a trusted attorney who can help you provide evidence of sufficient quality. It’s vital to depend on an experienced family law attorney who can screen all your evidence for pertinent information that proves your case. A good attorney can be instrumental in crafting your case to have the biggest impact possible. When seeking any change in child custody, you should seek professional advice.
How to Manifest Good Overall Character
Your character will be brought into question in every modification case, so be sure to be on your best behavior and display no signs of being an unfit parent.
Documents That Can Help You Win a Custody Modification Case
Staying organized with all records and documents relating to your child is key to winning any custody case. Make sure you have keep notes of everything and have them handy for the court.
Written Submissions to the Court
Be clear about what you’re asking in your statement to the court. State your position using supporting evidence when you submit your written statement,
Phone call Logs
You should record any time that your child engages with the other parent via phone call or virtual meeting. Keep track of the duration, frequency, and exact dates and times.
Having an organized log of visitation times with the child is important. The frequency and length of visitations can prove parental interest in a relationship with the child.
Your Child’s Records
Keep track of homework assignments, report cards, and anything that may show that your child is thriving in your care.
Can A Judge Deny A Child Support Modification?
Yes, a judge can deny or support any child support modification based on the evidence, circumstances, and what they deem benefits the needs of the child. However, if your request for modification is denied, you have the option of hiring an experienced family law attorney that can give you the help you need to plead your case.
There are a few ways you could go about presenting a modification to custody. The success of your case will depend on how diligent you are with keeping records of supporting evidence and documents, as well as doing your best to show good character by keeping a clean record. As long as you remain calm, organized, and put in the effort, you will have a good chance at winning the custody modification you desire.