Custody and visitation agreements aren’t set in stone. While it’s absolutely essential to abide by the terms of the decree while it’s in effect, it is possible to ask the court to change the terms. Either parent may consult a divorce lawyer to discuss child custody modifications, but there must be a compelling reason and evidence to prove these changes are necessary for the best interests of the child.
1. Risk of child endangerment
If you have reason to believe that your child may be at risk of physical or psychological harm, or if your child may be placed in a dangerous situation, don’t waste any time calling a family law firm. Some examples are domestic violence between parent and child, or between the parent and a new partner or spouse. Or, the child may be housed in an unsafe situation characterized by any of the following:
- Presence of illicit substances
- Deprivation of food, water, or safe housing
- Failure to keep firearms under lock and key
- Failure to provide medical care
- Psychological abuse
- Indirect physical abuse, such as by throwing objects
2. Pattern of willful violations of the existing order
Sometimes, custodial parents take it upon themselves to modify visitation in a way that they believe is best for their kids. They are legally prohibited from doing so, since only a court can change the order. If your ex has been denying you visitation, or violating any other terms of the decree, a divorce lawyer can help. In some cases, the judge may find the other parent in contempt of court, and order that they comply with the agreement.
Depending on the situation, it’s also possible for the judge to change the custody decree and visitation schedule. Since the best interests of the child are to have an ongoing, balanced relationship with each parent, the judge may decide to award primary custody to the other parent. Before doing so, the judge will likely want assurance that you, as the new custodial parent, are willing to support your child’s ongoing relationship with the other parent.
3. Parental relocation
Under ideal circumstances, both parents would live close enough to each other that the child can easily transfer between homes. But sometimes, custodial parents relocate far away. Talk to an attorney about your options. When deciding whether to modify child custody, the judge may consider:
- The effect of the move on the visitation schedule
- The motivation for the relocation
- The potential disruption to the child’s life
Judges generally prefer that children have stability. If the child has deep ties to the community, and moving far away would not be in the child’s best interests, the judge might be willing to grant primary custody to the parent who isn’t moving.
For family law guidance in New York or New Jersey, you can rely on the seasoned Rockland County and Bergen County divorce lawyers of Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman, P.C. We handle child custody and visitation, including modifications, as well as spousal support, child support, parental relocation, and post-decree enforcement, among many other related matters. Call our law office in Bergen County, NJ or Rockland County, NY toll-free at (888) 311-4803.
Additional child custody resources:
- The Spruce, How to Deal With Concerns About Visitation Safety, https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-deal-with-visitation-safety-concerns-2997762
- State of New Jersey, Parent Link, http://www.nj.gov/njparentlink/services/special/divorce/