Can child custody rights be modified?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021

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Child custody rights can be modified under specific circumstances. The ability to modify custody rights will depend on whether the two parents agree that a change needs to be made to a custody agreement or, absent agreement, whether the court believes that there has been a material change of circumstances and that the best interest of the child dictates that a custody change needs to be made.

How Can Custody Rights Be Changed?

The simplest and easiest way to change a custody agreement is to have both parents agree on the change. If you cannot come to an agreement by working with the other parent, then working with a mediator may help. An independent third party mediator can help you and the other parent work out a settlement and come up with a custody arrangement that works and is reasonable.

When Agreement between Parents Is Not Possible

If differences cannot be settled, the next step is to turn to the courts for help. Most states have a waiting period after the initial custody agreement has been formalized during which they will not make a change unless there is a very compelling reason to do so. For example, some states will not alter custody rights within two years of the agreement being finalized unless there is some danger to the child, abuse, neglect or some other circumstance that indicates that a custody change must be made immediately.

Otherwise, provided a sufficient time period has passed, changing the custody agreement will require showing that there has been a material change in circumstances. Examples of such a material change include one parent becoming better equipped to care for the child (perhaps by overcoming a problem like addiction or lack of employment) or one parent becoming less equipped to provide care. One parent deciding to move to a new location (usually one that is 100 miles away or more) could also be considered a material change.

When a material change has occurred, the court will make a decision on whether custody rights should be changed by considering the best interests of the child, just as they did when custody was first decided.

If you need to make a change to your custody arrangement, consider contacting a lawyer. Your attorney can help you petition for a change and convince the court that a new custody agreement is necessary. The attorney can advise you on how the local courts look at what kind of circumstances changed to warrant a modification to custody and visitation orders involving a child.

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