Child custody orders issued by the court are the governing documents unless and until they are modified; however, they are not permanently carved in stone or fixed. A custody or visitation order may be amended when the situation warrants, but not just at your convenience – it takes more than that.
In Virginia, courts prioritize the child’s welfare when considering modifications to existing custody orders. Therefore, before the court will modify a custody or visitation order, you must demonstrate two things: (1) that there has been at least one material change in circumstances since entry of the last order, and (2) that the material change(s) in circumstance make it in the children’s best interests to modify the current order.
Reasons a court may modify existing custody orders
As mentioned earlier, courts evaluate modifications to existing custody orders based on material alterations or changes that directly impact the child’s well-being. Some common reasons a court may modify child custody orders include:
- Relocation: If either parent plans to move, especially if it affects the current custody arrangement or significantly alters the child’s living conditions, it could warrant a modification.
- Major changes in the child’s needs: As children grow and their needs evolve, modifications may become necessary. This could include educational requirements, health conditions or extracurricular activities that demand adjustments to the current custody plan.
- Parental misconduct or lifestyle changes: If one parent’s behavior significantly impacts the child’s safety, emotional well-being or overall welfare, it might prompt the court to reconsider custody arrangements. This can include, but is not limited to, a parent’s violation(s) of the current order, facts demonstrating abuse or neglect, incarceration, and so forth.
Remember, courts will not rely on hearsay when determining such sensitive matters. You must provide compelling evidence to support your claims. Documentation such as communications between you and your co-parent, medical reports, or testimony from relevant expert and/or lay witnesses can go a long way in strengthening your case.
Seeking legal guidance can help you confidently navigate the modification process and present a compelling argument that will increase the chances of a desirable outcome.