Child custody orders are legally enforceable, but they are not set in stone. There are specific circumstances that warrant a change of custody and/or visitation. Understanding what these are and when the courts will allow for a modification of custody can help you take on whatever the future may hold for you and your children.
Before we consider some of the specific reasons for a custody modification, we must look at the two qualifications a modification request must fulfill. The first is that a “material and substantial change in circumstances” has occurred since the original custody order. The second is that the modification is necessary to serve the best interests of the child or children involved.
Child custody modifications are allowed under Massachusetts General Law Ch. 208 § 28. The following are examples of scenarios that may warrant a modification under this law.
1. Physical Relocation (Move Away)
One of the more common reasons for a custody modification is relocation. If the custodial parent is moving a significant distance away from their current residence, this could open the door to modifying the custody arrangement. A job opportunity or desire to be closer to family are examples of what may be behind a long-distance move and therefore a petition to modify custody.
Depending on the existing custody agreement, a custodial parent may be prohibited from moving a certain distance away from the non-custodial parent – unless the court approves a custody modification. In deciding whether to approve modification based on physical relocation, the court may weigh the impact that the move has on the non-custodial parent and their relationship with the child, as well as whether the move will have a significant positive or negative impact on the child’s best interests.
2. Noncompliance with Custody Order
Frequent and blatant violations of a custody order may provide reasonable grounds to apply for a modification if you can prove that the violations are affecting the welfare of the child. Cases like this may arise when a non-custodial parent keeps a child for too long, when a custodial parent refuses to let the non-custodial parent take the child as scheduled, or if a parent takes the child out of town without the other parent’s permission.
3. Change in the Child’s Needs
Children change dramatically from year to year and even from month to month. What worked when they were an infant or toddler may not be feasible as they enter their teenage years. A significant change in the child’s needs, due to their age, schooling, mental health, or physical health may be enough for the court to consider a custody modification.
4. Change in a Parent’s Situation
Positive or negative changes in a parent’s situation may provide a valid reason for a custody modification. This may apply to the custodial or non-custodial parent. For example, a non-custodial parent who has cleaned up their act after a substance abuse problem and can prove that they have significantly improved their life and their ability to care for the child may be able to seek a custody modification that would allow them to be more involved in the child’s life.
5. Child Endangerment, Abuse, or Neglect
If a child is ever at risk because of abuse, neglect, or endangerment, this may provide grounds for a custody modification. This may apply if one of the parents was committing these acts or exposing the child to another person who was abusing or harming them in any way. Drug or alcohol abuse, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment, emotional abuse, and mental health concerns may act against the best interests of the child, warranting a modification. If a child’s safety is in immediate danger, however, the best thing to do is to call 911.
Ask a Massachusetts Custody Modification Attorney
Life can be unexpected. If an opportunity has arisen or a change has come about that makes your current custody arrangement difficult or impossible, talk to an attorney about your options. You need to go through the proper channels to modify a custody order, or you could face serious consequences.
Miller Law Group, P.C. is here to help. As Massachusetts child custody lawyers, we know exactly how to apply for a modification of custody and protect our client’s interests to help them seek a positive result. We can also effectively challenge proposed modifications if they are not in your child’s best interests. In cases like these, having an objective and experienced legal professional can make all the difference.
Call (508) 502-7002 today to learn more about our family law services and how we can help you.