Attorney, Cordell & Cordell
"If you want to make enemies, try to change something" – Former President Woodrow Wilson
The first question you have to ask yourself is, "Why am I modifying my child’s schedule?" Children, especially young children, need stability in their lives. That is often why it is so difficult to even get the initial parenting plan worked out; it is intended to last.
However, most legislatures recognize that change is inevitable and your child’s needs will change as they grow. A parenting plan that serves the best interest of an infant may not serve the best interest of a 10-year-old and that same parenting plan may not be in the best interest of a teenager.
Things also change in your life and in the other parent’s life. Jobs, homes, new siblings, etc. All of these changes can cause the original parenting plan to become obsolete and ineffective for your present situation.
State laws will govern the standard you must meet in order to change a custody or visitation agreement. The distinction between a change in custody and a change in visitation is also an important distinction.
For instance, in Missouri where I practice, RSMO 452.410.1 provides that in order to change a custody determination, there must be a substantial and continuing change in circumstances such that modification is necessary to serve the best interest of the child based on facts that have occurred since the prior decree or were unknown at that time.
Under RSMO 452.400.2(1), however, a visitation schedule may be changed based only on the best interests of a child, a much lower standard. Still, you must be able to show that it is in your child’s best interest to increase time with you and therefore decrease time with the other parent.
So what are some changes that the court will typically find to be a substantial and continuing change? There is no list that a judge will look at and check off the requisite number of changes.
The changes can range from the other party moving residences and school districts multiple times (instability) to the other party consenting to a change in your child’s primary residence and you want to make it official.
You could be in the unfortunate position where the other parent has exposed your child to drug, alcohol, physical or mental abuse; or you could be in the admirable situation where you had a drug or alcohol problem at the time of the decree but now have kicked the habit and are able to properly care for your child.
Or, as previously stated, it could just be that your child is older and his or her needs and desires have changed such that living with you instead of the other parent is what is in their best interest.
Whatever the reason, you will need to show the court that these changes are not minor but substantial, and they are not simply a one-time event, but are continuing.
While this article addresses some of the issues that arise when preparing for a modification proceeding, you may have additional questions regarding your own specific situation. You should contact an attorney in your area immediately if you need additional information or legal representation, as most parties in modification actions do.
Cordell & Cordell has men’s divorce lawyers located nationwide.
Read all the parts of this series on divorce modification:
- Reasons for Modification
- How to Act Before Your Modification
- Evidence Needed for Modification
- How Moving Affects Modification
William Halaz is a Staff Attorney in the Arnold, Missouri office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C. Mr. Halaz is licensed to practice in the state of Missouri. Mr. Halaz received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from Southeast Missouri State University. Then continuing his education, received his Juris Doctor from St. Louis University’s School of Law.