When a married couple divorces, and they have children under the age of 18, specific sections of their divorce decree discusses time and financial commitments to those children. When you and your ex-partner had a previous agreement about your children’s “conservatorship” (or “custody”), but you need to make changes, you need to know how to get a child custody modification.

How Many Times Can You Change Your Agreement?

Generally, parents maintain responsibility and rights to their children as long as they remain a minor. Child custody agreements can be changed multiple times throughout a child’s life, as circumstances change. If one parent gains or loses income, needs to relocate, another party such as grandparents take custody of the child, or another change pushes the need for a child custody modification.

Do You Have Questions About Child Custody Modification? Ask Us.

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Most parents with multiple children change their agreement at least once. As each child reaches the age of 18 (or fulfills other conditions of being included in the divorce decree), the child may be removed from the documents. Therefore, it’s wise to plan to modify your decree at least once for every one of your children.

Food for thought: Children are sensitive to change and may take time to adjust to new living situations. Frequent disruptions to their schedule may be traumatic and can cause long-term effects.

Changing Your Custody Agreement if You Agree

The easiest situation is when two parents agree on changes to child support or custody. Then, they can often make informal arrangements to modify the agreement without going to court. However, if the parents disagree later, or there is confusion when someone else becomes responsible for the child, the court will not honor any informal agreements that were not approved by a judge. The parent who has not technically honored their custody or support responsibilities could face a fine or even jail time.

When parents can discuss child custody modification and come to an agreement, everybody wins.
When parents can discuss changes and come to an agreement, everybody wins.

Formal, Agreed-Upon Changes

To make formal child custody modifications, speak with your attorney. You shouldn’t have to appear in court. Your lawyer can draft the appropriate document, titled the “Agreed Order Modifying Prior Order in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship.”

You, your ex-partner, and both attorneys will sign the modification, and the attorneys present it to a judge for approval.

Formal Changes That Are Not Agreed Upon

If you and your partner attempt to complete the child custody modification order, but can’t reach an agreement on details of the changes, you have a chance to present your case to the judge. The facts will be presented and argued by your attorneys, and the judge may issue counter-offers or reject the offer as you’ve presented it. Be prepared to supply evidence for the modifications you’re requesting. Discuss your situation with your attorney.

Preparing for Court

If you and the other parent cannot agree and have chosen to present your cases before the court, you will need to show the reasons you want the changes you’ve requested. Common reasons parents request child custody modification include:

  • The other parent’s residence or living situation is unsafe. (You will need to show evidence of this.)
  • One of the parent’s work schedule or location is changing.
  • One (or several) of the children are no longer minors and/or will no longer be covered under conditions of the divorce.
  • One of the parent’s family situation has changed. (Perhaps there’s been a marriage, a new dependent family member who has moved in, or a new baby.)
  • The other parent has not been following the parenting time schedule.
A judge will hear your evidence and the child custody modifications you request, and decide what's in the best interest of the children.
A judge will hear your evidence and the modifications you request, and decide what’s in the best interest of the children.

You will need to demonstrate to the judge that your reasons for modifying the agreement are valid, and that the changes you’ve requested are in the children’s best interest.

Tip to Avoid the Child Custody Modification Process

Although there are many things to consider when first drafting your divorce decree, and it can be a painful, distracting, and overwhelming time, you will spend time discussing child custody. Talk to your attorney about streamlining the process for any modifications in the future, and find out your options about parent communication provisions. Putting these details into your initial divorce decree can save you time and trouble if you ever need to follow through with child custody modification.