An initial child custody determination may feel like it has a sense of finality to it, especially if it was fought over aggressively by you and your child’s other parent, but these orders are only good as long as they serve the child’s best interests. As circumstances change, you may be justified in seeking a custody modification that you think is better tailored to protect your child’s well-being.
In order to successfully modify an existing child custody or visitation order, you’re going to have to file a motion with the court. That motion should specify why you think the modification is warranted and indicate what, exactly, you’re requesting. The court will then set your motion for a hearing, at which time you should be prepared to present evidence.
What kind of evidence do you need going into a modification hearing?
This really depends on the facts of your case. It’s crucial to remember that the evidence that you present shouldn’t be aimed at attacking the other parent, but instead should be focused on how the current custody or visitation arrangement fails your child’s best interests. Here are some issues that may help support your position:
- Exposure to domestic violence: A child who sees or even hears domestic violence can be severely impacted. The child may fall into a persistent state of fear, exhibit aggressive behavior, struggle to manage anger, and exhibit poor school performance after being exposed to domestic violence. On top of that, if your child is living in a household where violence occurs, they may be at risk of being physically harmed.
- Exposure to parental substance abuse: Witnessing parental substance abuse and its effects can be traumatizing to a child. They may be forced to take on parental responsibilities due to the parent’s incapacitation, and they can be subjected to abuse or neglect. Again, your child’s demeanor and behavior may change for the worse, as they could be living in a constant state of worry.
- A parent’s untreated mental health: Untreated mental health conditions can pose a threat to your child. The other parent may verbally or psychologically abuse your child, and your child may be left without an emotionally safe and stable living environment.
- Financial changes: The custodial parent should be able to meet your child’s basic needs. If circumstances change, though, and the custodial parent is no longer able to meet those needs, it may be time to consider a modification to ensure that your child is adequately cared for.
- Your child’s wishes: This factor is often taken into consideration by the court, but it’s rarely dispositive. However, if your child starts giving indications that they want the custody or visitation arrangement to be different, you should start asking questions and digging deeper. After all, there’s a reason that your child feels the way that they do.
Be organized and prepared
When you seek a custody modification, you want your arguments to be as clear and as strong as possible. This means that you need to know all of the relevant facts and how to use them to your advantage when crafting your legal arguments. You should diligently work to gather the evidence that you need to support your position, but you should also try to anticipate the other side’s responses so that you can counter accordingly.
All of this may seem overwhelming to you, which is understandable given everything that you’re dealing with. That’s why as you prepare to move forward with your request, you may want to consider having a legal advocate on your side who can help you present your case in the best way possible.