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Can a child custody order be changed?

In any divorce involving children, there are bound to be some difficult and emotional times. This is particularly true in cases where divorcing parents aren't able to agree about the terms of a custody agreement. As we discussed in a recent blog post, in contested custody cases, a family law judge will take several factors into consideration when attempting to determine what type of arrangement serves a child's best interest.

While a parent may be unhappy with a custody ruling, it's important to comply with the terms and conditions of a judge's final judgment. At times, however, the situation of one or both parents may change in ways that affect a parent's ability to care and provide for a child and the other parent may take action to modify the terms of an existing custody agreement.

A parent who shares custody and/or visitation rights with an ex may choose to file a complaint for modification of an existing custody order. It's important to note, however, that such actions are only successful in cases in which a parent can prove that there's been a significant change in either a parent's or child's life and that a requested change is necessary to provide for a child's safety and wellbeing.

Circumstances that may warrant a custody change include those in which one parent is using drugs or is engaging in violence or abusive behaviors. If the parent requesting the custody change is concerned about a child's safety, he or she may file a motion for temporary orders. If granted, a judge can temporarily grant the petitioning parent custody until the matter can be formally investigated and resolved.

Co-parenting is not always easy and parents who share custody are bound to encounter their fair share of challenges as a child grows and his or her needs change. Above all, parents must work to ensure that they are providing a child with the love, support and encouragement that he or she needs to grow into a happy and well adjusted adult. In cases where one parent has reason to believe that an ex's lifestyle and behaviors are negatively impacting a child, it's wise to discuss such concerns with a family law attorney who handles custody modifications.

Source: Mass Legal Help, "How do I change custody?," April 29, 2016

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