Resolving child custody issues and having a custody order in place can be a relief to parents. These orders set the rules for parents and provide the framework for a new normal.

However, things change and a custody order that was appropriate at one point may no longer work. Under these circumstances, you may need to request a custody modification.

What is custody modification?

Custody modification is an official change in an existing custody order. It is a formal motion that permanently changes an order for one of two reasons:

  • A change is in the child’s best interests or;
  • There has been a significant change in circumstances

In these situations, you or the other parent can file a Motion to Modify. This motion can attempt to increase, decrease or terminate a parent’s custody rights or parenting time.

When do courts grant modification?

For modification requests to be successful, the courts must feel that a change is in the best interests of the child. For instance, an original order may have been put in place when a child was very young. Once he or she gets older, the child may develop a preference contrary to the original order.

Courts may also modify an order if there are significant changes that warrant such an action. A significant change can include:

  • Parental relocation to a new state or country
  • Changes in a child’s medical needs
  • A parent’s serious illness or injury
  • Changes in a parent’s lifestyle that affect his or her parenting capabilities
  • Substantial shifts in a parent’s work schedule

What can I do about modification?

If you believe custody modification is in your child’s best interest or you feel a significant change warrants a review of your existing order, you can file a Motion to Modify. Do not simply start deviating from the original order. And if the other parent has filed this motion and you do not want a modification, try to stay calm.

No one can unilaterally decide to change an approved custody order; those who do face legal consequences and possibly loss of parenting time. Even if parents agree on modification, the courts must still grant the modification.

If you or the other parent pursue modification, it can be wise to document changes, attempt to discuss the situation with the other parent (and your child, if appropriate) and consider seeking legal counsel to help you navigate these complicated situations.