Custody & Visitation Law
Modifying a Visitation Order
Whether you’re a divorced parent or you were never married to your child’s other parent, you will likely need to update and modify your child custody order or visitation order.
When a court looks at modifying child custody orders, visitation orders, and parenting time schedules, their main concern will always be the best interest of the child. Each state will legally define this “best interest of the child” standard and you should consider hiring a child custody lawyer in your area to answer your specific questions about modifying court orders in your individual situation.
A family court will usually modify the current custody order or child visitation order when they see a substantial change in circumstances and believe the modification will be in the child’s best interests.
In most states, child custody and parenting time can be modified by a mutual agreement or after a hearing via a court order. If you do this by mutual agreement with your co-parent, you still may need a judge’s approval so it is a binding court order, especially if the modification was a significant change.
Common reasons for child custody modification requests include:
- Change of circumstances: As kids grow, their schedules change. The plan when your child was a preschooler most likely no longer fits when they are headed into middle school. Parental schedules change too. New jobs or new work schedules mean that the old parenting time schedule, or physical custody schedule, needs adjusting.
- Emergencies: Unexpected emergencies like a hospital stay might make a request to modify a child custody order necessary. This can include physical health or mental health crises. These kinds of modifications of a child custody arrangement may be more temporary in nature until the emergency passes. Once the parent’s well-being and ability to parent return, the court will likely revert to the status quo plan.
- Moves out of state: An existing child custody order may be unworkable if either parent moves out of state or several hours away. In that case, the court will order a modification of custody to address the changed circumstances of the child and parents.
You or your lawyer must file all child custody or visitation modification requests with the same court that issued the original order. There are ways to move the custody order to where the child primarily resides now, if you, your child, and co-parent no longer live there.
Do not withhold the other parent’s parenting time if they have not paid child support or did something else to make you angry. In most states, child support is a separate legal issue from custody, and family court judges do not look kindly on a parent withholding a child from the other parent for non-payment of child support. There are other remedies to address nonpayment of child support, and it is best to seek legal advice on what those options are in your state.
It’s usually best for you and your children if you stick to working with the courts while seeking your requested child custody modification. Remember that any attempts to keep your child from the other parent could result in negative legal consequences, including an arrest and jail time.
Also, keep in mind that child custody orders generally have to be in place for a while before you can change them. For example, parents in Texas typically must wait a year before modifying their current child custody order (unless there is an emergency).
Having the modification of custody outlined in an enforceable and clear court order outlining the parental rights of each party in the form of legal and physical custody is best and will reduce any misunderstandings and potential conflicts. Don’t rely on a verbal agreement subject to differing interpretations.
There are many reasons why working with an experienced child custody attorney may help you secure a court decision that is truly in your child’s best interests. An experienced family law attorney knows the system and is likely knowledgeable of the other attorneys and judges involved. They can guide you through the system in working to secure a child custody modification that makes the most sense for your family and the needs of your children.