After your divorce is finalized, you will have a court order that defines your child custody and visitation arrangement with your co-parent. This child custody order will say “final” on it. You may be wondering whether you can modify your custody or visitation order if your circumstances change. Under Virginia law, courts can provide a child custody modification in certain circumstances.
If you believe that you’ve experienced a material change of circumstances and you’d like a modification to your child custody and visitation order, we can help. The experienced family lawyers at Surovell Isaacs & Levy PLC will review your case and advise you of your legal options. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation to learn more about how we can help you petition the court to modify your child custody order.
How to Modify a Child Custody Order in Virginia
If you would like to modify your child custody arrangement, you will need to prove to the court that you had a material change in circumstances. You and your lawyer will need to present evidence showing that the material change in circumstances has occurred since the court issued your last custody order. You also need to prove that the material change warrants modifying your child custody order to serve your child’s best interest.
The judge reviewing your petition to modify your child custody order will consider your child’s best interest, not your best interests or the best interests of your co-parent. Virginia family court judges have a significant amount of discretion in deciding child custody matters. What one judge determines to be a material change may be different from another judge.
Factors Courts Consider When Modifying Child Custody Orders
What happens after a judge decides that there has been a material change in circumstances? Next, the judge will decide whether modifying the child custody agreement is in the child’s best interest. When making this determination, the court will look at multiple factors, including:
- The age, physical and mental condition of the child, and the child’s changing needs
- The age and physical and mental condition of each parent
- The relationship between each child and parent
- The needs of the child, including relationships with siblings, peers, and extended family
- The role each parent has played and will continue to play in the child’s upbringing
- Each parent’s propensity to actively support the child’s relationship with the co-parent
- The willingness and ability of each parent to keep a close relationship with a child
- Each parent’s ability to cooperate in and resolve disputes with the other parent
- Any history of family abuse
- Any other factors the court deems necessary
The court will also consider the reasonable preference of the child when the child has the reasonable intelligence, understanding, age, and experience to express his or her preferences. When the court determines that there has been a material change in circumstances and it is in the child’s best interest to change the custody or visitation schedule, the court will issue a new order. This new order will modify the previous “final” custody order.
How Many Times Will a Court Modify a Child Custody Order?
There isn’t a limit on how many times a court will modify its child custody order. Nonetheless, you should only request a modification when there has been a legitimate and material change. Proving that a material change has occurred is difficult, and it’s best that you only request a modification when required to meet your child’s best interest.
The Child’s Relationships and Needs Have Material Changes
As children grow up, their developmental and emotional needs can materially change. The relationship between children and parents can also change over the years. A child might develop a special need or medical condition that requires fewer transitions between parents and their custodial schedule. You may need to petition the court to change your child’s custody schedule to accommodate your child’s needs.
One Parent’s Lifestyle Becomes Potentially Dangerous to the Child
In other cases, one parent may become addicted to alcohol or drugs or become engaged in other potentially hazardous activities for the child. Domestic violence, involvement in criminal activity, substance abuse, or even poor living conditions can all be dangerous and pose a risk to your child’s well-being. A parent may lose his or her job and not provide clean and safe living conditions for the child, or a parent may become homeless due to job loss or addiction.
A Parent Relocates
The relocation of a parent is a common material change in circumstances. When one parent needs to move to a new city or state involuntarily, he or she may be able to meet the material change of circumstances standard. However, the relocation of a parent won’t necessarily qualify as a material change in circumstances. If you would like to relocate with your child voluntarily because you’d like to enjoy a different climate or a different lifestyle, the court will probably not approve your relocation.
Moving your child because of your personal preferences will interfere with your co-parent’s relationship with your child or children. On the other hand, if your move is involuntary, the judge may be more willing to modify your child custody agreement. The court cannot prevent you from relocating, but they can reduce your custody time because of your choice to relocate. If you’re considering relocating, or you have to relocate, we recommend discussing your case with an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible.
The Benefits of Working With an Experienced Child Custody Modification Lawyer
Do you need the court to modify your child custody order? If so, the experienced family lawyers at Surovell Isaacs & Levy PLC can help. We will discuss your case with you and draft a compelling petition to modify your child support order. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation to learn more about how we can help you.