What to do when a child custody order no longer works for you

Parents with child custody orders that no longer fit their situation in life may be able to seek a modification of the order from the court.

In Texas, like many other states, once a divorce has been completed, the child custody order controls custody and visitation rights of the parents. Although the parents must comply with the order, the law understands that significant changes in life may lead to a need to change the terms of the order. Additionally, the law allows the order to be modified if the terms no longer suit the child’s best interests. Since this issue commonly arises among divorced parents, it is helpful to know a little about when child custody orders may be modified.

When orders may be modified

Under Texas law, either parent has the right to ask the court to modify the child custody order at any time. If both parents can agree on the need to modify the order, the process is quite easy and quick. In these cases, all that needs to be done is to submit a modified order to the court that granted the divorce (or the court in the county of the child’s new residence). If there is some disagreement on the terms of the order, the divorced parents may opt to use mediation or other collaborative dispute resolution processes for assistance in reaching an agreement.

Once the court has reviewed and approved the modified order, it becomes effective and may be enforced in the same manner as the previous order.

Unfortunately, not all child custody modifications go this smoothly. If the parents disagree on the need for a modification or the proposed terms of the modified order, the issue must be litigated in court, which can be a costly and lengthy process. Under the law, the current child custody order will stand unless the parent wishing to modify the order can prove:

• There has been a material and substantial change in circumstances; and

• A modification in the order would serve the child’s best interests

In all cases, the parent asking the court for a modification must show that there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances. In Texas, courts have interpreted this requirement to include a assortment of events including:

• Changes in employment status (e.g. layoffs or relocations)

• Abuse of alcohol or drugs by either parent

• Changes in marital status of either parent (e.g. remarriage)

• Medical needs

• Evidence of abuse or neglect of the child (this always is sufficient for modification)

In all modification cases, a court will not allow the custody order to be changed unless the changes reflect the best interests of the child. To determine whether this is the case, the court will examine many factors including the child’s needs, his or her relationship with each parent and the ability of each parent to meet the child’s present and future emotional and physical needs.

Speak to an attorney

If you believe that the custody order in force no longer fits the reality of your situation, do not be tempted to violate the order. Doing so can lead to a host negative outcomes. Instead, contact an experienced family law attorney. An attorney can review your situation and work to give you the best chances of a successful outcome.

Keywords: child custody modification