Proposing Child Custody Changes

Whether it was agreed upon by parents or created by the courts, a child custody order lays out the legal guidelines for parents to follow in caring for their kids after divorce. They describe the ways in which legal and physical parenting responsibilities will be divided, as well as how much child support a parent is obligated to pay the other. While child custody orders are firm in their implementation, an order does have the potential to see change.

With time, families change, as do the needs of the kids. Considering this, child custody changes should be made within an order to accommodate what is now in the best interests of the children. The way in which co-parents may go about changing their child custody order tends to vary by state, and a family's individual situation may also dictate how or whether child custody changes can be made. In any situation, here are some things to think about before requesting changes to child custody:

Think of your child's best interests. 

In every situation, a change to a child custody order will only be granted if the proposed change meets the best interests of the children better than the order currently in place. Think about what each of your children needs in this stage of their lives. If your current arrangement does not meet their needs as well as it could, that's when child custody changes may be a good fit for your family.

These changes may include legal custody changes, which dictates each parent's responsibility towards making important decisions for the children on matters such as education and healthcare.

They may also include physical custody changes, which lays out how parenting time is allocated whether it be shared custody, sole custody or visitation rights. Physical custody changes may also call for changes in child support payments, as the amount of these payments and who they are paid to is typically set based on how much time each parent spends with their kids. Consider where changes should be made to your order in order to meet the best interests of your children and to promote their well being. 

Talk to your co-parent.

Once you have had a chance to consider what changes you think need to be made to child custody, bring these to your co-parent's attention. They may have some suggestions for how it could be changed as well.

If you and your co-parent are in agreement as to the child custody changes, it will likely be much simpler process to have this change implemented. This process may include having an attorney draft a proposal which both parents sign and present to a judge.

As long as neither parent nor any of the children object to the proposed changes, the judge will likely approve it. Parents aren't always in agreement when it comes to child custody changes, and when this is the case, the process is more complex. 

Have proof to back up your proposal.

Have some type of evidence which demonstrates how the child custody changes that you propose are the right fit for your family. You'll want to somehow demonstrate how certain matters have changed for your family and how your current order is not an adequate fit for your family now.

Typically, a great change in circumstances will only be what warrants a child custody change, such as in the case where the safety and well being of the children is at stake when in the care of one of the parents.

Sometimes, it might be that a child wants to change which parent they live with primarily. Your proof may be by way of documentation, such as written messages from your co-parent or even a police report if an incident occurred. Testimony might also be shown as proof, like if your child is the one who really wants the change.

Whatever your evidence is, bring it to the attention of your attorney so they can help you decide how best to present it to the court.

Fill out the right paperwork.

You will have to complete paperwork in order to place your proposal with the courts. You can sometimes find the appropriate paperwork online on the website for your state or county court. It is important that you make sure that you are completing the right paperwork for where you live and for what it is that you are requesting.

These forms might include one to petition a child custody modification, a form to modify child support payments, and a form to request a hearing with the courts.

It might be helpful to have your old paperwork on hand to use as a reference as you fill out your new paperwork. If you have any doubts or are confused about the paperwork in any way, seek help so that you know you are filling out the forms correctly. Your attorney may be able to offer assistance with this. 

Talk to your attorney.

Making modifications to a child custody order is a complex process, and there is so much to know in regards to child custody laws and how those may affect your case. This is a situation in which you should seek legal help from a family law attorney. Your attorney will be able to offer guidance as to what you should expect as you propose child custody changes. They will be especially helpful to you if you and your co-parent do not agree on the changes, as you may find yourself back in the courtroom.

This article highlights certain points that co-parents should think about when considering child custody changes, but it is not meant to be considered as legal advice. Please seek assistance from an attorney who specializes in family law for guidance in your case specifically. If you are looking for someone to speak to regarding these matters, check out our Regional Resources directory.


NOTE: Many state and federal laws use terms like ‘custody’ when referring to arrangements regarding parenting time and decision-making for a child. While this has been the case for many years, these are not the only terms currently used to refer to these topics.

Today, many family law practitioners and even laws within certain states use terms such as ‘parenting arrangements’ or ‘parenting responsibility,’ among others, when referring to matters surrounding legal and physical child custody. You will find these terms as well as custody used on the OurFamilyWizard website.