When a couple divorces and they have children, the original child custody order is in effect until the children are no longer minors or there are circumstances that may call for a modification to the order.
If one or both parents request a modification, the judge can approve it, but it must meet certain criteria. A judge typically only changes an order if there are substantial changes in circumstances or the current order is not meeting the needs of the child.
How to request a modification
According to the Massachusetts government, the parent who wants to change the order must file a complaint for modification with the court. In the complaint, the parent should describe which portion of the custody order he or she wants changed, explain the reasons for filing the modification complaint and describe how the child has suffered because of the changes. If both parents agree to the modification, they can sign and file a joint petition for the judge to approve.
Legitimate reasons for a modification
A judge will not approve a modification request for minor reasons. If there is a change in circumstances, it must be substantial. Some examples of substantial and material situations:
- Loss of job or significant decrease in income
- Gainful employment for previously unemployed parent
- Change in work schedules
- Relocation of a parent
- Evidence of domestic violence in the home
- A previously addicted parent is now sober
Another reason for modification is if the current order does not meet the child’s best interests. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, the health and safety of the child are some of the main factors in determining the best interests. Other factors include the ability of each parent to provide for the child, emotional relationships between the child and other family members, mental and physical needs of the child and the child’s developmental levels.