How To Change a Custody Order

Child Custody - June 4, 2020
Father playing with son in kitchen

Custody orders

It is possible to change a custody order, and you also have the right to hire a family law lawyer to help with the process. The difficulty of modifying a custody order can depend on several factors, including the cooperation of the child’s other parent. In some cases, it may be as simple as coming to an agreement, having a lawyer prepare the petition to modify custody, filing it with the court, and getting a court order signed by the judge.

In other cases, you will need to meet specific criteria and possibly go through mediation and a court hearing. A lawyer can present your argument and hopefully convince the judge that the exigent circumstances require a change to custody order.

Reasons a judge will change a custody order

There are many reasons a judge will make a change to a child custody order including:

  • The existing custody agreement no longer serves the child’s best interest at their current age.
  • One parent is moving to another state or area which makes the current arrangement difficult.
  • One parent’s work schedule has changed, and the current order no longer provides quality time and/or proper supervision.
  • The family situation has changed significantly in one home.
  • The child is struggling in school.
  • The child’s school or extracurricular schedule has changed considerably.
  • There is reason to believe the child is living in an unsafe, unclean, or otherwise unfit environment at the other parent’s home.
  • One parent is facing significant physical or mental health concerns.
  • There are difficulties following the current parenting plan or it is voluntarily not being followed.
  • One parent is deliberately blocking the other from court-approved parenting time.
  • Modifications are needed for child support, visitation schedule, or anything else that contributes to the child’s well-being.

The court may agree with your request and grant you a new order, but in other cases, the other parent may need to agree to a new custody plan.

When can I make a child custody modification?

The laws and standards can vary from state to state. Normally it needs to be shown that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred and that it is in the best interest of the child(ren) to change or modify the custody order.

If you believe your child is in danger, or there is reason to believe that a “substantial or material change in circumstances” has occurred requiring a change in the parenting plan, it may require the filing of a motion and hearing. You should seek advice and assistance from a family law lawyer in these circumstances.

A material or significant change in circumstances may include changes that have:

  • Occurred since the divorce and child custody parenting plan was put in place
  • Caused a significant impact on the child’s day-to-day life
  • Contributed negative effects on the child’s schooling, health, or other factors
  • Benefit the child if the parenting plan is altered

In claiming a substantial or material change in circumstances, documentation or other evidence may be necessary to support the need for modification that will benefit the child. A lawyer can help you understand these issues and the requirements in your state.

Can the other parent and I reach our own agreement?

The family court will normally approve a change to the order when both parents are in agreement and it benefits the child. This is not always as simple as it sounds, though.

In some cases, both parents agree that a modified plan would best fit their needs and is in the best interests of the child or children. If you can reach that agreement, be prepared to take certain steps to make your plan official by modifying the court order:

  • Sketch out the details of your new plan for child custody
  • Ask a lawyer to review the plan to ensure it meets your state’s standards
  • Have the lawyer draw up the required documentation
  • Have both parents approve the final plan
  • File the proper documentation with the court and have a hearing set if required
  • Be prepared for a hearing if needed
  • Have the court order signed by the judge and properly filed

Mediation may be an option if the parties are not able to agree. It can still require a court hearing for resolution. Working with a lawyer can help you understand your rights and take the necessary steps.

Seeking a custody change if the parents can’t agree

You may need to seek a change in current custody because of a substantial or material change in circumstances, but the other parent might disagree or otherwise reject the change. If this happens, it may require documentation to be filed with the court and a hearing in order to make changes.

Depending on state laws, you may need to meet with a court-appointed mediator to try to reach an agreement with the other parent before going before the judge.

If the case goes to court, be prepared to present:

  • Evidence to show a substantial or material change in circumstances
  • Proof of how this change in circumstances has negatively impacted the child(ren)
  • A proposed plan for modifying the custody order

A lawyer can help identify the types of evidence to support your case and build an argument for modifying the plan. This may include working with witnesses who can testify about the child’s living situation or the effects the material change has had on the child’s life. Expert witnesses may also be necessary. Other evidence may include:

  • The child’s report cards
  • School disciplinary records
  • Videos or photographs that illustrate your concerns
  • The child’s medical records or other documentation of emotional or physical concerns
  • Testimony from the child’s teacher, therapist, or other trusted adult
  • Additional evidence to prove the material change in circumstances or how it affects the child

You have the right to seek advice and assistance for a lawyer. After the court hearing, the judge will rule about whether or not there will be a change in the custody order.

Potential pitfalls of handling the case outside of court

While there are benefits to reaching an agreement with the other parent without going to court, there are also pitfalls to handling the case without going through the legal system, particularly if you have a strained relationship with the child’s other parent.

Any time you reach an agreement, even just for an early pickup or a swapped day, put the agreement in writing. When it comes to altering the parenting plan, however, be prepared that the agreement cannot be enforced and will not stand up in court unless the proper steps are taken to file documents with the court, and it receives court approval.

A lawyer is helpful to navigate the process of gaining custody in situations like these.

Consult a lawyer about custody of a child

LegalShield plan benefits include access to a provider law firm to help address legal challenges and navigate the process of changing a parenting plan. A family law lawyer can explain your options and the next steps based on your specific circumstance and location.

If you are already a LegalShield Member, you can use the LegalShield app to call your law firm today and discuss your matter.

If you are not yet a LegalShield plan member, we can help you decide which of our plans best fits your needs. We have plans for individuals, families, and small businesses LegalShield serves all 50 states and all Canadian provinces.


LegalShield provides access to legal services offered by a network of provider law firms to LegalShield Members through member-based participation. Neither LegalShield nor its officers, employees or sales associates directly or indirectly provide legal services, representation or advice. See a plan contract for specific state of residence for complete terms, coverage, amounts, and conditions. This is not intended to be legal advice. Please contact a lawyer for legal advice or assistance. If you are a LegalShield member, you should contact your Provider Law Firm.