There are circumstances in life that are out of our control—an ex becoming unable to properly parent, a change in job status or schedule, for example, or an unexpected illness that can change life significantly.
In these situations, it’s not uncommon for one or both parents to seek modifications to child custody or parenting time agreements to fit their evolving needs.
Child custody judgments can be modified in court. Modification requests can only be made due to a ”material and substantial change in the circumstances” of a parent. Changes will only be granted if a modification will serve the best interests of the child/children.
What is a Material and Substantial Change in Circumstances?
This aspect of the statute is similar to other modification requests, such as updating child support orders whereby a parent is required to show a “material and substantial change in the circumstances” following the original custody determination. This means providing proof that the existing custody arrangements are no longer suitable due to a significant change in the lives of either the parent or the child.
Some examples include:
- Acceptance of a new job requiring frequent travel by a parent
- Change in work schedule of a parent
- One parent is attempting to impair the child’s relationship with the other parent
- Mistreatment or neglect of a child by someone in the home
- Voluntary relinquishment of custody
- A parent’s criminal conviction or failure to comply with a CPS family service plan
- A parent’s relocation out of state
- The existing parenting schedule no longer being appropriate as the child gets older
There are many different changes in circumstances that can be presented to a judge. Remember, this must be satisfied in addition to proving the modification is in the best interest of the child/children. There are also additional requirements if a custodial parent (one with primary or shared physical custody) wants to permanently remove the child from the commonwealth for residency purposes.
Defining The Best Interests of The Child
The best interests of the child standards are used in every custody determination and examine numerous factors (not an exhaustive list) such as:
- The quality of the relationship between the parents and the child
- The age of the child
- Each parent’s ability to communicate with the other on child-related issues
- The ability of the parents to provide a stable environment for the child
- The child’s academic performance
- Any mental health or wellness issues affecting the child
- The living accommodations at each parent’s home
It’s not uncommon for a parent to contest a modification request made by the other parent. In these situations, courts often rely on a report from a guardian ad litem (GAL) to help determine what custodial arrangement would serve the children’s best interests.
While some states treat a GAL as a representative of a child acting as a child’s personal advocate, in Massachusetts, a GAL serves as an investigator for the court. Duties include gathering information by reviewing documents and interviewing witnesses. The role of “child advocate” is only given to attorneys who formally represent children as clients.
Parents who agree on a modification to custody or parenting time can file a Joint Petition and Agreement to Change Judgment. This can help speed up the court process. The Court is still required to ensure that the modification is in the best interests of the child/children, but an agreement of the parties may be approved administratively without the need to appear in Court.
If you require a child custody and/or parenting time modification, contact our office today to discuss the next steps. Berid & Schutzbank, LLC is happy to work with you to file the appropriate paperwork and to successfully move your case forward while zealously representing your interests.