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Can we modify child custody orders?

Adjusting to a custody and visitation plan can be a challenge for any New Jersey parent. But over time, it gets easier. The exchanges are more predictable; the acute negative feelings parents may have toward each other may subside; a child can settle into a new normal.

Unfortunately, just as things are settling down regarding custody and visitation, situations can arise that could trigger questions about modifying the custody orders. Before you panic or assume everything is going to change again, you should understand a few critical details about custody modification.

Change takes time

Modification will not happen overnight, even when both parents agree to it. Modifying a court order requires parties to either file a petition with the courts proposing changes for approval or go through the courts for a judge to rule on modification.

In other words, modifying custody takes time. Unless and until the courts approve changes to a custody order, it is crucial for parents to comply with the existing order as best as they can. Failure to do so could lead to serious consequences and custody disputes.

Events that may warrant modification

For courts to order modification, there must be a significant change in circumstances. These changes typically affect a parent’s capabilities or rights, or the child’s needs. Some examples can include:

  • Parental incarceration
  • Parental relocation
  • Changes in a child’s medical, physical or emotional needs
  • Changes in a parent’s physical or mental health
  • Significant misconduct or violations of the current order
  • Changes in a child’s preferences
  • Improvement or declines in parental capabilities
  • Events including violence or abuse affecting the child

In light of these and similar events, an existing custody order may no longer reflect a suitable arrangement that is in a child’s best interests.

Prioritizing a child’s best interests

Whatever the reason may be for modifying a custody order, parents must understand that whether the courts approve a change or not will depend on whether the new order protects a child’s well-being. 

Parents and children change over time, and these changes can affect custody or visitation plans. Under these circumstances, custody modification may be what is best for everyone.