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: Sep 3, 2020

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Custody battles make great fodder for TV shows and movies, but the reality typically involves significantly less drama. A court signs off on a custody plan that is created for the kids, and both parents share the child or children accordingly.

If someone wants to make a significant change to a custody agreement, though, as in change primary custody from one parent to the other, things can get a little trickier. There are essentially two options. The first option is for the parent seeking the change to get the other parent to agree to the change. This might be unlikely, but if the parents do manage to come to a consensus on a change, the court is generally going to sign off on it without any issue as long as it appears to be in the best interests of the children. The second option requires the parent seeking the change in custody without the other’s approval to petition the court to make the alteration.

A custody agreement isn’t just going to be changed on a whim, and some courts require a waiting period following the original custody agreement, during which no changes can be made unless the parent seeking the change can show some type of imminent danger or harm to the child. This waiting period may be as long as two years.

Outside of the waiting period, the parent seeking the change will first have to prove that something called a “material change in circumstances” has occurred. A material change in circumstances is a very significant change, like one parent losing the ability to care for a child, moving away, or developing a substance abuse problem.

If the parent requesting the change is able to show that something significant and important changed, the court will next consider whether the change is in the best interests of the children. If it is, the requested change will be granted.