How to Amend a Child Custody Decree
By Anna Green
To amend a child custody decree, parents will generally need to petition the court that entered the initial order. The exact procedures for amending child custody orders vary from state to state, but typically involve preparing a written order, filing it with the court and attending a hearing on the merits of the changes. Until the judge approves the amended order, the old custody agreement will remain in effect.
Change in Circumstances
For a court to amend a child custody decree, you will generally need to show that circumstances have changed since the initial agreement was entered. For instance, the court may look at changes in a parent’s physical and mental health that affect his ability to care for the child. If a custodial parent is unable to provide the child with a safe and stable home, this may be grounds for a custody modification. Additionally, a child’s preferences and relationships with her parents, or parents’ partners, are factors the court will consider when deciding whether to modify a custody arrangement.
Petitioning the Court
In the petition asking for modification of the child custody decree, the parent requesting modification must outline the exact changes in circumstances that warrant a modification. This petition must be formatted according to specific state requirements. To ensure the petition is formatted properly, the petitioning parent may want to obtain a sample modification document from the clerk of court or an online legal document preparation service. Once the petition is complete, the petitioner should sign and date the document and file it with the court clerk. The petitioning parent must also serve the petition on the other parent using a method prescribed by state law. In most states, a parent can serve a petition using a private process server or certified mail.
After filing the petition for custody modification, the court will assign the family a hearing date. At the hearing, both parents will have the opportunity to present their case in front of the judge. Parents are generally allowed to call witnesses and present written evidence, either supporting or refuting the proposed chances to the custody decree. In some instances, the judge might ask a third-party custody evaluator to meet with the child and both parents to determine what custody arrangement is in the child’s best interests.
Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, which almost all states have adopted, child custody matters are generally held in the child’s home state. In most cases, this will be where the child currently resides with his or her parent, if they have resided in the same state for the preceding six months. If the child and parent recently moved, the home state may be the location from which the family just moved or where the family has close ties and where evidence concerning the case is located.
- American Bar Association: Custody and Visitation
- University of Pennsylvania Law School: Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
- Child Welfare Information Gateway: Determining the Best Interests of the Child: Summary of State Laws
- Missouri Judiciary: Motion to Modify Child Custody (and Support)
- Western New England University School of Law: Family Law
Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.