Divorce can be exceptionally difficult when children are involved. Getting through the divorce process itself is an emotional roller coaster, but it gets harder when you have kids.
There are several things that will need to be addressed during the divorce process, including child support, a visitation schedule, and custody arrangements. The initial agreements can shape the relationship moving forward and you should be sure that both parties can reach a compromise. There may come a time, however, when some agreements may need to be modified for different reasons.
When can you modify a custody order?
When the initial custody order is no longer working for both parties and/or the kids, some changes may need to be made. There are a few instances where you can modify a custody order.
- Relocation. If either parent is relocating, whether it is for work or another reason, this is a good time to modify the custody order. Note that if you only move down the block, the judge will probably deny your petition. But if you’re going out of state or to West Tennessee, a modification will be needed.
- Significant changes in income. Another time you will need to change a custody order is if one parent has a substantial increase or decrease in their income in a way that could affect custody. For example, if you need to move in with roommates or a parent, or if you have to take a different job with different hours, you may need to modify your custody order.
- A decline in health. A serious health issue for the parents of the child is another reason to modify an order. Certain conditions may necessitate in-home care, or affect a person’s ability to drive.
- Safety. One of the most traumatic reasons custody may need to be changed is when there are acts of domestic violence in either home. You can request an emergency order to get your child to safety, and petition for sole residential custody once your child is safe.
- Child preference. As your child grows, their needs may change, and this can be taken into consideration when changing a custody order. Your child’s preference may not be enough to sway a judge on its own, but if you and your coparent support the change, you may have better luck.
The two key things you should keep in mind when seeking a change to a custody order is that first, the change must serve the best interests of the child. Second, there must be a material change in circumstances that warrant the change.
A change to a custody agreement does not mean that other parts of the divorce decree will change. It can, however, trigger the need to adjust child support, too. For the record, just because a judge agrees to modify one part doesn’t mean he or she will automatically modify another.
What does the order modification process look like?
There is no surefire way to make changes to a custody agreement as every case is different. Your modification may not be as easy or quick as someone else’s. So keep this in mind when you decide it is time to make changes or modifications to a custody order. Your Knoxville family law attorney can help you understand what obstacles you may face, and what your options are.
Your family law attorney will file a petition with the court on your behalf for the potential change. When the court receives the petition, a hearing will be scheduled. During the hearing, both parties will discuss the change and be able to negotiate new terms. The negotiation process can sometimes be done prior to seeing a judge by using mediation but not every co-parenting situation is the same and a judge may need to get involved.
Why are some petitions to modify a child custody order denied?
A mistake that some parents make is to have informal agreements in place. They can often see the court process as a burden. They assume that because the co-parenting relationship is on good terms that it will stay that way and they can continue to make informal changes.
Problems can arise if either of the two parents is no longer happy with informal agreements and decides to revert back to the original parenting plan established. This can leave the child and other parents confused and thrown. The other parent may try to argue that an informal agreement had been made and that should be upheld.
However, in the legal process, an informal agreement will not get you very far. You must prove that there is a material reason for the change and not an issue of convenience.
The biggest reason we see modifications denied is when there is no substantial material change. If a parent has relocated within 50 miles, then a modification may not be granted. Moving 30 miles from your original home may seem like a big change but for the courts, this may not warrant a custody modification. This is why it is crucial to weigh out all possible circumstances during the initial agreement.
There is one circumstance where the court may grant a temporary injunction that does not require mediation or other long legal processes. This can happen if it is found that the custody order puts the child at risk. This can mean that one parent is abusing the child or is taking part in dangerous behaviors like substance abuse. A temporary injunction is as the name suggests temporary, and you will still need to seek a permanent custody modification.
At LaFevor & Slaughter, we have years of experience in family law and know what it takes to secure successful custody modifications. Trust the Knoxville family law attorneys from LaFevor & Slaughter by calling us at 865-637-6258 to discuss your needs. You can also complete a contact form on our website.
Patrick Slaughter is an experienced Knoxville attorney passionate about helping families resolve legal issues including divorce, family law matters and immigration. Patrick graduated from Lincoln Memorial University – Duncan School of Law, summa cum laude and is a published author. Patrick is a member of the Knoxville Bar Association as well as the Tennessee Bar Association. Contact Patrick Slaughter at (865) 637-6258 or by filling out a case evaluation below.
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