Can I modify my current custody and visitation order?

We get a lot of calls from people who are unhappy with their existing custody and visitation orders. Either the order does not reflect what is really happening, the schedule is not working, or there is no schedule at all and the parties are having constant arguments over visitation. The law allows you to ask the court to modify a custody or visitation order at any time, but you must to prove a “substantial change of circumstances.” What does this mean? If one parent is planning to leave the state, with or without the children, this is automatically considered a “substantial change.” The court will determine whether the children should go or stay and what the new visitation will be, if the parents can’t agree. On the other hand, some people have orders that do not specify visitation at all, but say things like “liberal visitation” or “visitation as arranged between the parents.” Orders like this are impossible to enforce, so if you are not getting visitation, you need to ask the court to modify the order to specify what you get. If things have changed because, for example, the children are older the schedule was designed for preschoolers, you can ask the court to change the schedule. Finally, if you think the other parent is harming the children somehow, you can move to modify the custody and/or the visitation. But remember that the change has to be substantial; you will waste your time if you go to court over trivial issues like haircuts or footwear.

Before going to court, or hiring a lawyer to go to court for you, give serious thought to what change you want, and what would work both for you and for the children. The court can only change an order if it is in the “best interests of the children.” You might save time and money by consulting with a lawyer before you decide whether to ask for a modification, even if you decide to do that actual work yourself.

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