Changing it is not always easy once child custody has been finalized as part of a divorce decree. Family law courts finalize custody arrangements with the understanding that much thought and care has been put into them to make them as permanent as possible. They’ll want significant reasons to change them. Here’s what you need to know.
What Do Texas Courts Look for When Considering Modifying an Existing Child Custody or Visitation Case?
First and foremost, the courts will look at the same foundation they used for determining custody and visitation in the first place: What’s in the child’s best interests?
This may sound like a simple question, but it rarely is. There isn’t a unified, standardized answer to that inquiry, but there are many factors that courts may consider when trying to answer it. The bottom line is that when requesting a modification, the parent must demonstrate that it will improve the child’s life and welfare if the modification is accepted.
These are some of the factors that may be reviewed:
- Parental fitness.
- Access to other family or close friends. If the child has established relationships with other family members, neighbors, or friends, the courts could find that changing custody or visitation could be detrimental rather than helpful.
- Financial or employment changes. Suppose one parent loses their job, needs to move elsewhere for the job (whether to another town or out of state), or has experienced financial hardship. In that case, the other parent may request custody and visitation changes to ensure the child maintains a more stable life and will have their needs (food, clothing, shelter, medical care, etc.) met.
What Proof Is Needed to Persuade the Court to Consider Modifying Custody or Visitation Rights?
The focus is still on what’s in the child’s best interests, and any evidence presented to the court should be able to support that. Several things could help bolster the idea that the change will significantly benefit the child. Because each of these cases is unique with various facets, it’s highly advised that people work with experienced family law attorneys to determine what specific evidence might most help their case.
- Medical, therapy, and/or school records. Either or both of these can help support the idea that the custodial parent is not helping the child thrive or, in some cases, that the child is subject to neglect or abuse.
- Employment and financial records. These are valuable if there’s been a change in the employment or financial status of one parent, either for the better or the worse, to prove they’re capable or incapable of providing a stable home.
- Witness testimony. This could be from a number of people who regularly interact with the child, including teachers, coaches, neighbors, other family members, and friends. If they’ve seen evidence that the child would benefit from a change in custody or visitation, having their testimony can be valuable.
- Communication records. These can be phone logs, emails, text messages, records of Zoom meetings, etc. These can either prove that the custodial parent isn’t allowing the required access to the child, or it can prove that the parent in question has a strong bond with the child that should be considered when the courts make a decision.
- Records of the other parent’s issues. If one parent feels the other is no longer capable of providing a good home to the child, documenting the reasons why can be helpful. Suppose the other parent sends abusive or dismissive messages. In that case, if the child reports unacceptable behavior or if the child’s emotional state has changed in a negative way (more withdrawn, no longer willing to talk, shows signs of not wanting to return to that parent’s home), the other parent is showing signs of uncontrolled addiction or debilitating medical problems, keep track of all those.
It could take significant evidence to convince a court to uproot a child. Every parent has some moments where they’re not at their best. But documenting those moments can be helpful if they become a regular occurrence.
How Long Does it Take to Undergo the Custody Modification Process?
It depends on the case’s complexity and whether or not the parents are in agreement or close to it. If the parents are in agreement on the proposed changes, they can draw up a proposed custody order detailing the requested changes, noting they both support them, and submit them to the court. In cases where the parents agree, the court will likely approve the changes. Once approved, the changes are legally in place and must be followed.
If they don’t agree, it could take weeks or months to work through the process. Each side would need to present their side of the story (with evidence to back their side up), and the court may ask the child, although they won’t necessarily go with the child’s choice.
What Should I Do if I Would Like to Request a Modification to My Child Custody Arrangements?
Call the Cutrer Law Group at 817-813-8513 for a free case evaluation. Requesting a modification to child custody arrangements isn’t to be undertaken lightly and requires considerable planning.
Our team of experienced, knowledgeable family law attorneys can guide you through the process and advise you as to what needs to be done to work toward a successful outcome. These cases are complex and benefit from working with professionals who understand the nuances of custody law.