Child custody tends to be one of the most contentious issues during a divorce case. Moreover, child custody issues can continue to arise after a divorce is granted. For example, the time may come when one or another parent may desire to seek a change of child custody. With this in mind, there are a number of points to bear in mind when a parent is interested in seeking a change in an existing child custody order:
- Application of the best interests of a child standard
- Material change of circumstances supporting a custody alteration
- Motion to change custody
- Custody hearing
Application of the Best Interests of a Child Standard
When a parent desires to seek a change of custody, the same judicial standard used by the court to establish the custodial arrangement in the first place is used. This is known as the best interests of a child standard.
In determining whether a change of custody is appropriate, a court considers if amending the existing order does satisfy the best interests of a child. This is determined on a case by case basis and doesn’t use a one-size-fits-all approach.
Material Change of Circumstances Supporting a Custody Alteration
The parent desiring to change custody typically must demonstrate that there has been a significant or material change of circumstances that warrant the alteration. The reality is that stability in the life of a child is important. Changing custody has the potential for upending that stability.
Motion to Change Custody
The party seeking to change custody must file a motion with the court. This typically is prepared by an attorney. Alternatively, many courts have standard motion to change custody forms a person without legal counsel can use.
Absent an agreement between the parents on a change of custody, the court schedules the matter for a hearing. At the custody hearing, both parents are able to present evidence regarding the sought-after change of custody.
A judge also has the ability to order a home study or similar evaluation by an independent professional in advance of a custody hearing. A home study report and testimony from the person who prepared it can also be presented during a custody hearing.
The decision to seek a change of custody cannot be pursued on a whim. A parent interested in making such a change must give serious consideration to the factors discussed in this article. Above all, a parent needs to focus that consideration on whether or not the desired change of an existing custodial arrangement is in the best interests of a child or children.
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