During a divorce case or child custody dispute, the court will order final child custody and visitation arrangements. These arrangements are based on what's in the best interests of the child, which is the standard courts use in deciding custody issues. However, there may be reasons why you want to change these arrangements. The courts are guided by the presence or absence of certain key factors in determining whether circumstances have changed enough that modification of the custody arrangements would best serve the child.
Ability to Provide Stable Environment
The parents' ability to fulfill the child's basic needs is a crucial factor in determining whether to modify custody. A court may transfer custody if a parent can't provide the child with a stable environment. Situations that may influence a court to transfer custody include when the custodial parent:
- Moves frequently
- Has a hard time keeping a job
- Has multiple relationships or marriages
- Interferes with the other parent's visitation rights
Courts will usually not transfer custody just because the custodial parent has a less stable environment than the other parent. The changes in the custodial parent's environment have to be substantial, and the child's best interests would have to be promoted by a change in custody.
The child's preferences rarely serve as the sole or major reason to modify custody. A court will consider the child's preferences as one factor in its determination. The child's age, maturity, intelligence and motivations may determine the weight given to the preferences by the court.
The court balances the impact that relocation has on the child with the custodial parent's right to resettle and start over. The courtnormally won't transfer custody on the sole basis of a good faith relocation unless it's clearly detrimental to the child's best interests. Good faith relocations may be based on better job opportunities or remarriage.
In determining whether to modify custody based on relocation, the court will examine the child's loss of meaningful contact with the non-custodial parent. The court will also examine the potential impact that the relocation will have on the child's emotional and physical health.
Issues involving religious training aren't ordinarilyt sufficient for modifying custody. The parents' religious decisions may be considered by the court only if they negatively affect the child's mental and physical health. If the child has actual religious needs, such as needing to follow strict observations, the court may consider religion as a factor in modification.
Voluntary Custody Changes
The court may modify custody if the parents entered into an informal arrangement to change custody. The court will examine the circumstances of the informal change, its effect on the child and the length of time the arrangement has been in effect.
Changes in the mental or physical health of the custodial parent are key factors in determining modification. However, health problems aren't considered as isolated factors. They're viewed in light of the child's overall best interests.
The court will consider the lifestyles of the parents if they've a substantial impact upon the child's welfare. However, lifestyle issues are very subjective. Courts have made a variety of different decisions as to what type of lifestyle is enough to require a modification of custody.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can I prevent the custodial parent from moving out of state with my child for a job opportunity?
- If the custodial parent is struggling to maintain a job, can I have custody of our child transferred to me?
- Can I have custody of my child transferred to me if I don't approve of the custodial parent's current lifestyle?