The only constant in life is change. For example, you might suffer an unexpected divorce, your children grow up, you change jobs, you move from one place to another, and more. These changes might affect your child custody arrangements. You can’t see your child after school on weekdays, for instance, if you take a job 100 miles away. Perhaps it would be better to switch to a weekend custody schedule.
But how can you make this change if your child custody arrangement is supported by a court order? Do you have to go to court? The general answer is, as is the case with many legal issues, “It depends on the circumstances.” Remember that a change in custody might affect child support obligations as well.
Court-Ordered Child Custody Arrangements
You may have come to your original child custody arrangements through conflict or consent. Either way, a New Jersey family court must have issued an order that “sets in stone” your current child custody arrangements.
That means that you must take action to change any existing child custody arrangements if they are a response to a “substantial” change in circumstances.
What Constitutes a “Substantial” Change in Circumstances?
You don’t need to seek modification of child support arrangements if the change you seek is the result of an insubstantial change in circumstances, and the change won’t affect the best interests of the child.
If you move from one apartment to another one in the same neighborhood, for example, you probably don’t need to modify your child custody arrangements (nevertheless, err on the side of caution). It’s only when the change in circumstances is substantial, requiring substantial changes, that you need modification.
Following are some common examples of substantial changes:
- A major relocation (to another city or perhaps even to the opposite side of town);
- The closing of the child’s private school;
- Someone in the household becomes abusive;
- Remarriage or cohabitation that affects the child;
- Substance abuse in the child’s household or that otherwise affects the child;
- One parent’s refusal to comply with existing child custody arrangements;
- A major change in employment or work schedules (changes in shifts, more frequent overtime, and more).
- The child’s needs change as they get older.
The foregoing is necessarily an incomplete list of possible changes.
Consent Orders: The Easy Way To Modify Child Custody Arrangements
If you can get the other parent to agree in writing to your modification request, you can draft a consent order. Better yet, you can have a New Jersey family lawyer draft it for you. You won’t have to make an appearance in court (at least if you have a lawyer), but you will need the judge to sign the order.
The applicable legal principle, of course, will be the “best interests of the child.” Nevertheless, judges typically presume that when parents agree on a child custody arrangement, they have the best interests of their child at heart.
Most of the time, the judge will sign the consent order without questioning it. The signed consent order becomes the new, binding child custody arrangements.
If you cannot secure the other parent’s agreement to your proposed modifications, try to get the other parent to at least agree to mediation. If successful, mediation will avoid the need to reappear in court. A mediated agreement works just like a consent order. Once the judge signs it, it becomes binding.
The Non-Consensual Option: Filing a Motion With the Court
If you absolutely cannot reach an agreement with the other parent, you will have to file a motion with the court. You must prove your case, and the court will rule for or against you. Even then, you probably don’t need to return to court as long as you have a lawyer to make an appearance on your behalf.
Contact an Experienced Child Custody Attorney at The Law Office of Jennifer J. McCaskill, LLC for Legal Advice
Many different issues might bear relevance to your need to modify child custody. These issues might intertwine and interact with New Jersey family law in ways that you can’t predict.
You can also visit our law firm at 157 Broad St #111, Red Bank, NJ 07701.