A child custody order is a court order, so you’re not allowed to deviate from it unless both parties agree or it is changed by the court. That said, it’s not meant to be set in stone. Sometimes, a change in circumstances makes it necessary to change your custody arrangements. However, even if you and your ex agree on what changes are needed, you may need to get approval if the changes are intended to be more permanent in nature.
If both parties agree, your lawyer can submit a court order with the proposed changes and the court will almost always modify the court order as requested.
If you don’t agree, the dispute will typically be sent to mediation. If mediation does not yield an agreement, the dispute will go to trial before a judge.
Before we discuss when a modification is appropriate and how to get one, be sure you understand the basics of child custody in North Carolina.
What kinds of changes could allow a modification of your custody arrangements?
There are many, and it’s impossible to create a comprehensive list. Essentially, it could be anything that affects your children in a way that makes it in the best interest of the children to change the order. This might include, for example:
- One parent needs to move somewhere farther away, to another state or abroad
- There has been a long-term change in one parent’s work schedule that affects the parenting schedule
- A child needs to change schools, and this makes parenting less convenient for one parent
- Something new has prompted one parent to challenge the children’s religious instruction
- An older child wants to live primarily with the other parent
- The child has become ill, and the parents need to coordinate his or her care
- There have been other substantial changes in a child’s overall need for care, such as a new disability
- There have been changes in one parent’s ability to care for the child, such as serious mental illness or an addiction
- There have been credible allegations of child neglect or abuse
- One parent has not been complying with the existing custody order
What kinds of modifications are allowed?
Anything the court considers to be in the children’s best interest is on the table. This includes changes to legal custody (parental decision-making) or physical custody (your parenting schedule). You can work with your lawyer to come up with a list of changes that make sense, considering the changes in your circumstances.
What will the judge consider when making a custody modification?
In a disputed case, the judge will consider whether there has been a change of circumstances affecting the children as well as whatever factors he or she believes affect the children’s best interests, such as:
- The parents’ living arrangements
- The parents’ occupations and work schedules
- The parents’ respective abilities to care for the children
- Whether one parent has traditionally been a primary caregiver
- The children’s relationships with each parent
- What family support networks exist through each parent
- Whether the change would mean a change in neighborhood or school
- In the case of an older child, his or her preference
- Any other factor the judge considers relevant
Working with your attorney, you will need to consider what factors you think are most relevant to your children’s best interests. Your attorney will help you figure out what kinds of evidence may be helpful to your case.
Whatever the reason for your need to change your child custody order, it can be a stressful situation. Be sure to work with a compassionate attorney who knows the process and will go the extra mile to help.