Sometimes, things change substantially after a child custody order has been issued. A new job or a job loss can change how and when you need to parent. You may be considering relocating. You may have evidence that your child’s other parent is abusing or neglecting them. Or, perhaps your kids have grown enough that they would prefer a different arrangement.
Under some circumstances, you can get changes made to your existing permanent custody order. This is available when you can show two things:
- There has been a substantial change in circumstances since the order was issued.
- The changed circumstances are affecting the child in such a way that changing the old order is in the child’s best interests.
Understanding basic child custody concepts
In North Carolina, the responsibility to care for a child is divided into two concepts: Legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the right to make major decisions about a child’s life, such as education, religion or healthcare. Physical custody is the right to live with and/or spend time with the child, as set up in a court order. The time you spend with physical custody of your children is often called your “parenting time” or “visitation.”
Both types of custody can be either sole or joint. So, you could be given joint legal custody and primary physical custody, or you might be given sole legal custody and shared physical custody. Any combination is allowed, although some form of shared custody is most common.
You can ask to modify either legal or physical custody
If you are seeking to change custody, ask yourself whether you need to change the legal or physical custody arrangements and whether the change is in the best of interest of your child. For example, if you are planning to relocate with your children, you will definitely need to make changes to the physical custody arrangements.
What will the judge consider?
By law, child custody decisions are to be based on the best interests of the child or children involved. Fairness to the parents is a secondary consideration. In order to determine your children’s best interests, the judge will consider factors such as:
- Each parent’s living arrangements
- Each parent’s ability to care for the child
- The child’s relationship with each parent
- Whether one parent has traditionally been the primary caregiver
- Each parent’s occupation and work schedule
- Family support networks available to the children through both parents
- Other factors relevant to the child’s welfare
If you need to modify a child custody order, your attorney can explain what factors would be relevant in your particular case. Modifying child custody arrangements can be a challenge, but it can be done in the right circumstances. It is always important to discuss your concerns with a family law attorney before taking any legal action.