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Changing Custody and Visitation Orders

Circumstances change, and while you may try your best to plan for the future, many child support, custody and visitation orders need to be modified. This could be due to variations in income, or the need to switch residences, or even just accommodate your children’s evolving educational and recreational requirements. As long as you can provide adequate proof new orders are needed, most courts will grant modifications to child support, custody, and visitation through a simple motion or order filed by either parent.

A variety of factors can impact child custody and visitation, including remarriage, relocation and changes to the child’s own school and extracurricular activity schedules.  At any time before the child reaches the age of 18, either parent can petition the court to request a change to child custody and visitation.  In some states, if a child has reached a certain predetermined age (i.e. 16 years old), a court may also allow for the child to petition on their own to change child custody or support.

Child custody is generally divided into legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody involves the right and responsibility to make decisions related to the child’s medical care, education, religion and other child-rearing related issues. Physical custody, on the other hand, involves parental right to have the child physically reside with the parent. Physical custody can be either sole or joint custody. Legal or physical custody (or both) can be changed through filing a request for modification with the court that originally granted the custody orders. Additionally, in some states, both parents can consent to a modification at any time, without the need for a formal order of the court. The ability to come to an agreement about custody and visitation without a formal court order will depend on the individual state laws and regulations.

Child custody and visitation can be modified at any time, as long as the court determines that the modification is “in the best interest of the child.” Most of the time, the court will attempt to ensure that the child is provided with a safe and stable environment. In many states, the court will also balance the need for a “traditional family environment” against other factors such as the child’s age, the child’s primary residence and school district, and whether the current or proposed living arrangement has any chance of exposing the child to physical or emotional harm. If the parents cannot come to an agreement, a hearing date will be set so that both sides may appear and offer arguments in support of their individual custody and/or visitation requests. Once the judge issues a decision, a new court order will be signed by the parties and become legally binding. These new orders can be modified again in the future at any time, as long as substantial changes in circumstances can be established by one or both parents.

Though it can feel overwhelming, the truth is that the court is dedicated to protecting your child above all else.  When it comes to custody and visitation, modifications can often be achieved quickly and easily.