After your divorce is finalized, you may feel a sense of relief that you can put it all behind you and begin the next chapter of your life. The unfortunate truth is that for those who have children, their divorce will never be behind them. For any arrangement to have the force of law behind it, the arrangement must pass before a judge. Hence, all modifications to existing orders need to go back to court to be adjusted. Otherwise, the original deal remains in place, and one party may be held accountable even if they discussed a verbal change to the agreement with their former partner. It is thus imperative to have any modification in writing.
Grounds for Modifying an Existing Custody Order
Child custody modifications may be made, but only when the court finds just cause. In other words, if either party wants to change an existing agreement, they need to provide the court with a good reason for doing so.
When the initial custody agreement was struck, both parties discussed which situation would be better for the child, and a judge ratified the agreement giving it the force of law. Something in either your or your spouse's situation changed resulting in a need to amend the original agreement. Without this amendment, any change you make will not have the force of law behind it. That is why it is absolutely essential to ensure that the court understands that the deal has been changed.
Despite that, Florida courts do not want to change an agreement for reasons that it considers petty. For example, if one parent is simply annoyed that the agreement will not work around their schedule, the court will generally deny their request to revise the order.
Valid grounds for revising an order must consider the child's best interests. These include:
- “Substantial” change in circumstances - If a parent has to move, is severely injured, falls ill, or any of a number of things happen that result in a substantial change to the material circumstances of the parent or their children when the agreement was first reached, then the court will find grounds to change the existing agreement so long as it is not detrimental to the children.
- Both parents agree to the modification - Typically, the easiest way to modify an agreement is by reaching out to your former spouse, discussing your situation, and asking them to modify the original agreement. Uncontested requests to modify an agreement are almost always accepted by the court.
- Injunctive relief for threats or violence - If one parent physically abuses the children or the other parent, the court will impose an injunction blocking the parent from accessing their children. In other words, one parent is awarded 100% temporary custody until the injunction is lifted.
The standard for changing an existing agreement when both parents cannot agree is quite high. In some cases, not even an isolated incident of domestic violence will be enough for the parent to prove that modifying the agreement is in the child's best interests.
Common Reasons for Seeking a Post-Judgment Modification
The most common reasons for modifying a post-divorce agreement include:
- A former spouse moves out of state
- The children get older and have different needs
- A former spouse remarries
- A former spouse loses their job
- A former spouse gets a new job
- A former spouse's health deteriorates
- The child is doing poorly where they are
- A parent is no longer able to see the children regularly
A parent must be able to show that the need to change the current agreement is necessary. The change must then be analyzed to determine what sort of impact it will have on your children.
Technically, What Constitutes a Substantial Change?
Florida courts will apply this basic litmus to determine if a change is “substantial” enough to warrant a modification to an existing agreement. The change must be:
Isolated incidents may not, therefore, be considered a “substantial” under the law. A spouse may not unilaterally change the terms of an existing custody agreement because they feel the other spouse yelled at them in an unfriendly way. The spouse may petition the court to determine if the parenting agreement should be changed in the light of the other parent's behavior, but unless the behavioral change is considered “permanent,” the court will not consider it to be “substantial.”
In addition, a job change may not be considered grounds for a modification unless the circumstances of the job change improve the quality of life for the children or are necessary for the continued support of the children. As it happens, moving out of state or even in-state, but further away often becomes grounds to modify an existing arrangement. However, in these cases, the other parent is less likely to contest the modification.
Failure to Follow the Terms of the Divorce Agreement
A failure to follow the terms of a child custody arrangement, child support payment arrangement, alimony payment arrangement, or anything else that impacts the well-being of your former spouse and children can become cause to modify the terms of an original child custody arrangement. If one parent refuses to hold up their end of the bargain in accord with the court's requirements, the court can consider this when deciding the likelihood that a spouse will honor the terms of a child custody agreement. A non-compliant spouse is hence unlikely to work with the other spouse, and the court may impose sanctions on the spouse if they believe their conduct is detrimental to the children.
Talk to a Tampa Child Custody Modification Lawyer in Tampa
If you need to make a change to your current parenting plan, two things you do not want to do are: unilaterally change the agreement to your liking or, reach an agreement with the spouse that the court does not know about. For any modification to be enforceable, it must be in writing. Call the Tampa child custody modification lawyers at Florida Divorce Law Group for a free 30-minute consultation.