Child Custody: How to Modify an Order

The purpose of a child custody order is to maximize the amount of time each parent spends with their children and to encourage the personal and academic growth of the children. As children get older, their needs and schedules change. Parents also get new jobs and change houses. Whenever there are significant changes in you or your children’s lifestyle this can create the need for modifying your child custody order.

So, how are child custody orders modified?

Material Change in Circumstances

Before a child custody order can be modified, there must be a “material change in circumstances.” Virginia law requires that the lifestyle change that has happened must be directly related to the wellbeing of the children, and must be a significant change. Courts are unlikely to change a custody order over smaller changes such as a rescheduling of one extracurricular activity.

A common example of a material change in circumstance is a move or an intended move by one of the parents. Changing houses can have a significant impact on your children’s schedules. The move may result in longer commuting times, less time at home for one of the parents, and an increased burden on the non-custodial parent.

Another common example is a job change by one of the parents. If one parent takes on extra shifts at work, this may result in less time spent with the children. Courts are always looking to maximize time with both parents. Therefore, if one parent is unavailable, then the custody may shift to the other parent.

With respect to the children, the most common example of a material change in circumstance is age. As children grow older, they go to different schools and take on more extracurricular activities. The parent that is in a better position to encourage that personal growth for the children is a better candidate for custody.

Best Interest Factors

As with the initial custody decision, the Court will look at the same factors as before. The chief concern in a modification proceeding is the best interests of the children. As such, the Court looks at information including the best education for the children, extracurriculars and any other factors that will help the children mature.

Timeline for Modification

Every court is different. Some courts have more cases than others. However, most modification cases can take between two (2) months and one (1) year depending on how busy your particular court is.

How a Lawyer Can Help You

A lawyer is able to help you prepare your case for the Court. Custody proceedings are emotional, and it is hard to explain your story in a way that the judges are able to appreciate. A lawyers is also able to ensure the attendance of your witnesses and prepare you for what not to say to the Court. Finally, a lawyer can make sure you file all the necessary paperwork.