Unfortunately, not all child custody agreements work well on a long-term basis. As family dynamics alter, children grow, and the needs of both the parents and the child change, certain aspects of your child custody agreement may need to change as well. If you find something in your child custody arrangement falling short of your expectations or failing to meet your child’s needs, you may need to seek a formal change. In legal terms, this change is called a modification.
A child custody agreement can only be modified under certain circumstances. In other words, you can’t just ask for a modification just because you don’t like your custody arrangement. In order for the court to grant your request for a modification, you must have a legitimate cause.
The Best Interest of the Child
In essence, it all boils down to determining what is in the best interest of the child. The main objective of the court is to find the best possible course of action to serve the needs of the child in question. So, if you wish to obtain a child custody modification, you need to be able to prove to the court that a change to the agreement would be for the benefit of your child.
The potential reasons for a child custody modification include:
Keeping Your Child Safe
When a child is in danger, their safety should be the primary concern. If you fear your child’s other parent is putting your child in jeopardy, or that the household they live in is in any way harmful, you have every right to seek a custody modification. Because the court’s central objective is to protect the best interest of the child, it will take any indication of abuse, neglect, or harmful living conditions as a glaring red flag. If the court has any reason to believe that either parent is at risk of harming their child, or if anyone within their household could become abusive, the court will likely limit the child’s exposure to that environment.
For example, if the mother’s boyfriend is a convicted felon and has a record of domestic violence, the father may seek a modification to prohibit their child from living with the mother. As an alternative, the court may grant the father physical custody of their child, and provide the mother with specific visitation rights, like supervised visitation.
The Child’s Emotional Stability
The court considers the emotional needs of the child when making a parenting plan, and the court will also look at these needs when a modification is requested. In many cases, the court may grant a modification based on the child’s ability to adjust to environmental changes, like their relationships with others within their household or within their community.
Ideally, the court wants to see the child living with the parent they have a strong emotional bond with, or in a household where he or she can spend time with other siblings, grandparents, and family members. If the court deems the child old enough, they may also take their wishes into account when determining child custody.
When Medical Needs and/or Caretaking Change
In the event that a child is faced with new or altered medical challenges, their child custody arrangement would most likely change as well. If a child is diagnosed with a serious illness that requires around-the-clock care, the custody arrangement may need to change to reflect that new need. Or, contrarily, the child may no longer require constant care, which means parents may now wish to share more parenting time and responsibilities.
Sometimes, child custody may change simply because a perfectly healthy child’s daily needs have changed. For example, a baby requires far more care than a child who attends school daily. So, once a child is old enough to attend school, the parenting arrangement may also change to reflect the child’s shifting needs.
Relocation or Remarriage
If either parent wishes to relocate or remarry, their custody arrangement will almost certainly change as a result. These types of major changes can have a big impact on a child, which is why they need a reliable, concrete parenting plan to help establish a firm routine when these adjustments take place. When someone relocates, it could make sharing physical custody nearly impossible, especially if one parent moves out of town, out of the state, or even out of the country.
Also, if either parent remarries, that could change the living environment at that parent’s house, which would affect the child. For example, he or she may now has stepsiblings, or they may not get along with their new step-parent. Whatever the situation, if a major change like this is occurring in your family and you want to change your child custody agreement, you need to discuss your options with an attorney.
Let Our Firm Help You
Missouri courts are interested in seeing families co-parent in a way that focuses on fostering the child’s relationship with each parent. In other words, unless there are instances of abuse or other serious problems, the court will encourage both parents to have contact with their child. Unless the circumstances are extreme, judges will favor shared custody arrangements and will usually allow parents visitation rights in cases where sole custody is the better option. However, if you are dealing with a relocation case where shared custody isn’t an option, or if your co-parent’s living environment is harmful or abusive, you may be able to fight for rights to sole custody of your child.
Depending on your needs and circumstances, our firm can provide you with the legal guidance and advice you need. We can work with you to determine the best course of action for you and your child.
Contact Smith Law Offices, LLC to discuss your case with our skilled St. Charles divorce and family law attorneys.