Custody & Visitation Modification FAQs

Discover helpful guidance in understanding how and when to seek changes to your child custody or visitation agreements.

When Are Custody and Visitation Orders Eligible for Modification?

After finalizing a divorce or establishing custody and visitation rulings, parents might seek to adjust these terms. It is possible to create a modified agreement without a court’s direct approval. However, this “stipulated modification” might not hold up if one parent changes their mind later on, making court-sanctioned changes a safer choice. Unless a court finds such modifications to conflict with the child’s best interests, it usually approves them.

Should one parent wish to change a court-sanctioned order and the other disagrees, the interested parent must file a motion with the original court for a modification. A court typically grants such a request only upon evidence of a “substantial change in circumstances.” This significant threshold helps maintain stability in the child’s life and reduces the frequency of repetitive modification petitions.

What Is Considered a Substantial Change in Circumstances?

Substantial changes can take various forms, such as:

  • Relocation. A custodial parent’s plans to move a considerable distance could significantly alter circumstances and potentially lead to a revision of custody or visitation terms. While some courts may switch custody, the preferred outcome is for parents to devise a plan allowing for continued meaningful contact with the child. If parents fail to agree, the court may allow the move only if it does not harm the child’s well-being. Each state and its courts assess such situations with the child’s best interests as the primary focus.
  • Lifestyle alterations. Changes in the other parent’s lifestyle that may endanger the child could justify modifications to the current arrangements. For instance, a custodial parent who starts overnight shift work and leaves a young child unsupervised, or a noncustodial parent who engages in substance abuse, could be grounds for custody or visitation changes. Such modifications might involve stipulations for supervised visits or assurances of sobriety during contact times. Definitions of detrimental lifestyle shifts vary widely across jurisdictions.

For personalized guidance and more detailed information about modifying custody or visitation in your specific case, contact James H. Wilson at 804.740.6464. Our legal team is dedicated to protecting your rights and pursuing the best possible outcomes for you and your children.

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