7 Top Reasons a Judge Will Change Custody Agreements
Children need stability, so South Carolina judges are not eager to change custody agreements. Nonetheless, it is possible to revisit a custody agreement and change it to protect your child’s best interests if changed circumstances warrant it.
Under the law, a judge can modify custody when there has been a material change in circumstances. But what does that mean? At Surasky Law Firm, we work with parents all the time who seek to modify child custody. Below, our Aiken, SC, child custody lawyer reviews the most common reasons a judge will change custody. Even if your reason is not listed, call us and ask how a judge will likely analyze your case.
The Parents Agree
This might be the easiest way to get modification. When parents agree, they can file a joint petition for modification of custody to the judge. The court won’t automatically sign off. You still need to show the judge that the change is in your child’s best interest, so be prepared to show how the change will preserve the child’s relationship or foster their physical, emotional, and mental health.
Parents agree to change custody for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the parents believe a teenager should live with the other parent, or they realize that their schedules no longer work.
If the custodial parent seeks to move with your child, you can object. Moving isn’t automatically a sufficient change, even if the move interferes with your ability to see your children. However, you might object to the move on the grounds that it will negatively impact your child’s education or emotional development. You will also need to show how a modification is in your child’s best interest.
Interference with Custody
Judges aren’t pleased when one parent refuses to follow the custody order and instead tries to block parental access. This is called interference with custody. It can happen a lot, especially when parents continue to disagree after the divorce.
For example, one parent might simply refuse to hand the children over and come up with all sorts of excuses. You can go into court and ask a judge to enforce the child custody order. If the other parent still refuses to comply, then you should ask for a change in custody. You can also ask that the court hold the parent in contempt of court.
One key is to prove interference. A judge is unlikely to change custody if your child was really sick during school vacation and couldn’t visit. That’s life. The judge wants to see that interference has created a material change in circumstances, depriving you of time with your child. You also need to show that a change of custody is in your child’s best interest.
De Facto Custody
Under the South Carolina Code § 63-15-50, de facto custody refers to a situation where the child is living full-time with the noncustodial parent, and there haven’t been any problems. For a child under 3, the minimum amount of time is 6 months. For an older child, the amount of time is one year.
For example, your teenage son might decide he wants to live with you for the last two years of high school, so he moves his stuff to your house. Although you haven’t modified the custody order, the custodial parent doesn’t object.
Do you need to modify the custody order in this situation? Maybe not. But the issue usually gets to court when the custodial parent changes their mind and suddenly wants the children back. At that point, you can describe the situation to the judge and ask for a modification. If your child is a teenager, then their preference for living with you will carry greater weight than if they were a child.
The Child is in Danger
Certain changes in the custodial parent’s home can endanger your child. These changes should be sufficiently serious to warrant a modification of custody:
· The custodial parent develops a drug or alcohol addiction.
· The custodial parent develops serious mental health problems, like schizophrenia or psychotic breaks.
· Your child is molested or physically abused in the custodial home.
· Your child is neglected to the point of being physically or psychologically endangered.
Often, a new romantic relationship is the trigger. For example, your ex-wife might have a new boyfriend who moves in and engages in criminal activity, is a drug addict, or exposes your children to dangerous situations. You can ask the judge for a modification.
The Custodial Home Becomes Unstable
You might also seek a modification of custody if the custodial parents’ home has become unstable due to:
· Frequent moving
· Job loss or other financial problems
· People moving in and out of the home
You will need to show how the instability impedes the custodial parent’s ability to meet your child’s needs. For example, frequent moving might lead to your child dropping out of school for frequent periods of time, or your child could develop emotional problems.
A note of caution: job loss or other financial stress does not, by itself, warrant a change in custody. Being the wealthier parent has never been a reason for a judge to award someone custody. But financial difficulties can lead to constant evictions or even homelessness, which is not temporary.
Your Child’s Needs Change
Custodial arrangements that worked for a toddler probably become outdated when your child hits middle school or high school. Your child might no longer be thriving in their current home. You might argue that your home is more suitable for meeting their needs.
For example, your child might develop unique educational or medical needs. Your home might be more appropriate because you live near medical care or a school that will help your child thrive.
Do You Want to Modify Custody?
At our firm, we have represented parents hoping to change custody. We have also defended the custody arrangement when our clients want to preserve the status quo. Please call our firm to find out whether we can help you. Custody fights are emotional; they also require a lawyer who is very detailed in making arguments to a judge. Call Surasky Law Firm today.