When Can My Child Custody Agreement Be Modified?

After the dust has settled from your divorce, it can be daunting to think about going back to court to make modifications to an already settled agreement. But life changes. Perhaps you have changed your job or moved across town, and the fact is that reconsidering parts of an existing parenting agreement may become necessary.

There are two paths available if you want to change your existing parenting agreement. You can either attempt a modification through a new court order or work with your former spouse on mutually beneficial terms that can then be approved by the court. Regardless, consulting an experienced child custody attorney will make sure that you and your child’s best interests are protected through the process.

Requesting a Modification to Child Custody in New York

The court understands that circumstances can change, and it has a process in place to facilitate those changes. However, in order to request a modification to your existing child custody order, you must demonstrate that there has been a “substantial change in circumstances.”

What Qualifies as a Substantial Change in Circumstances?

Judges are reluctant to grant modifications for minor life changes, which is why New York courts have set this standard.

Common examples of a substantial change in circumstances include:

  • A significant and sustained change in either parent’s work schedule
  • Relocation of either parent to another city or state
  • Change in the child’s educational situation
  • One parent is found to have engaged in abuse, neglect, or abandonment
  • One parent is struggling with substance abuse issues
  • One parent has developed a serious medical condition
  • One parent regularly fails to permit visitation

The courts may also be willing to hear requests from children over the age of 12 who would like a change in their family’s present custody arrangement.

Do I Have to go to Court to Modify My Child Custody Agreement?

Informal custody arrangements are possible, but it’s important to understand that there may be drawbacks to doing so. A mutual agreement between parents on a new custody arrangement can provide temporary relief, but it's important to recognize that this informal accord is not legally binding.

For example, if the other parent wishes to go back to the previous schedule at any point in time, they would be legally free to do so whenever they want. To protect yourself and your children better under such circumstances—and to create peace of mind for both parties involved—it’s wise to consider filing an official modification through the court.

Your attorney can help you draft a petition that states your desired changes and outlines why they are necessary given the new circumstances. If both parents agree on the modification, then it can simply be incorporated into an agreement which can then be submitted to the court for approval. However, if one parent does not agree with the proposed modifications, then the request will need to be heard in court. The judge will then evaluate the evidence and present circumstances to determine if a modification is necessary and appropriate.

How Samuelson Hause PLLC Can Help You

If you believe your current child custody agreement no longer serves the best interests of your family, our experienced child custody lawyers at Samuelson Hause PLLC can help you negotiate a new child custody agreement. Whether that means working with your child’s other parent to reach a mutually agreed upon arrangement that we can then submit to the court for approval or making sure we collect the necessary evidence and argument to convince the court a change is necessary, we are prepared to support you in your efforts to do what’s best for you and your child.

If you are interested in modifying your current child custody agreement, contact Samuelson Hause PLLC online or call us at (516) 584-4685 to schedule a consultation to discuss your situation in detail.