Can I Ask the Court to Change my Custody Order?

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Can I ask the court to change my custody order?

Yes. As the children grow older or the parents' situations change, you may need to ask for a new order. Either parent can ask to change custody orders. The parent who wants to change the order must ask the court for a hearing. At the hearing, if you prove that a different custody order would be in the child's best interests, the court will make new orders.

It is difficult to get an order changed within the first two years. You would need to prove to the court that:

  • The current custody order may harm the child, or
  • The child is no longer living with the parent who has residential custody.

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Can the other parent and I decide to change custody without a court order?

A court order is better than an informal agreement. Your spouse could have a change of heart. And you could end up paying child support even if the children live with you.

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Do I have to go back to court to get a new order?

If you and the other parent agree on the change you want, you can both sign an Agreement. You would still have to file it at court for it be valid. But you won't have to have another hearing. In your Agreement, it's important to explain your reasons for changing custody. The court may also want to see proof of your reasons for changing.

If you and the other parent do not agree to change the custody order, you can still ask the court to make the change. But you will have to ask for a court hearing. At the hearing, you would have to prove that it is in the child's best interests, and there has been a significant change in your situation, including a change in:

  • What the parents want, and what the child wants, especially if the child is 14 or older,
  • The parents' and/or the child's mental and physical health,
  • The relationships and behaviors in each parent's household, including any domestic violence, and
  • The impact on the child's home, school, or community.

You can also ask the court to order a custody evaluation. This is a report done by a professional who would interview the parents, the child, the family members, and other people closely involved with the child. The evaluator's report will make a recommendation to the court.

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How do I know if the court will make a new order in my case?

Here are some examples of situations when a court might change residential custody: 

  • The child is getting older and wants to live with the other parent, especially if the child is not doing well in school in their current home.
  • The parent with residential custody remarries, and the new home environment is harmful for the child.
  • The parent with residential custody plans to move to a place where the child has no family or friends.

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Reviewed August 2009