Ability to Provide Stable Environment
The parents' ability to fulfill the child's basic needs is a crucial factor in determining whether to modify a child custody ruling. A court may transfer custody if a parent cannot provide the child with a stable environment. Situations that may influence a court to transfer custody include when the custodial parent:
- Has a hard time keeping a job
- Has multiple relationships or marriages
- Interferes with the other parent's visitation rights
- Has difficulty meeting educational or other basic needs of the child
Courts will usually not transfer custody just because the custodial parent has a less stable environment than the other parent. The changes in the custodial parent's environment have to be "substantial," and the child's best interests would have to be promoted by a change in custody.
The child's preferences rarely serve as the sole or major reason to modify custody. A court will consider the child's preferences as one factor in its determination. The child's age, maturity, intelligence and motivations may determine the weight given to the preferences by the court. There is no "magic age" at which a court will give deference to a child's choice of household. Generally speaking, the court will give significant weight to older children with regard to their preferences.
In some situations, the custodial parent wishes to relocate to a different city or state. In these cases, the court balances the impact that relocation has on the child with the custodial parent's right to resettle and start over. There are many reasons for a potential relocation including job and educational opportunities, the opportunity to be closer to other family members or a new relationship.
In determining whether to modify custody based on relocation, the court will examine the child's loss of meaningful contact with the non-custodial parent. The court will also examine the potential impact that the relocation will have on the child's emotional and physical health and will determine which location provides better opportunities for the child to succeed. Relocation cases are some of the most complicated cases presented to the court for consideration.
Issues involving religious training aren't ordinarily sufficient for modifying custody. The parents' religious decisions may be considered by the court only if they negatively affect the child's mental and physical health. If the child has actual religious needs, such as needing to follow strict observations, the court may consider religion as a factor in modification.
Voluntary Custody Changes
The court may modify custody if the parents entered into an informal arrangement to change custody. The court will examine the circumstances of the informal change, its effect on the child and the length of time the arrangement has been in effect. Sometimes voluntary changes in the child custody arrangement are necessary due to a parent's change in lifestyle or inability to care for the child at the time. It is always important to seek a new court order when a voluntary change in the custody schedule becomes permanent.
Changes in the mental or physical health of the custodial parent are key factors in determining modification. However, health problems are not considered as isolated factors. They are viewed in light of their impact on the child. Serious health conditions which affect a parent's ability to provide necessary care for a child may serve as the basis for a custody modification.
The court will consider the lifestyles of the parents if they have a substantial impact upon the child's welfare. However, lifestyle issues are very subjective. As with health and other issues, a change in a parent's lifestyle must affect the parent's ability to care for the child or otherwise have a detrimental effect on the child in order to modify a custody order.