Any domestic relations order can be modified if there is a lawful basis to do so. The two most inclusive areas of modification are:
a.Where child custody, parent time, or support are involved; or
b.Where a party’s financial situation has materially changed.
Custody-related changes must arise from a substantial and material change of circumstances, and the proposed changes must be an improvement for, and in the best interests of, the minor child. This requirement is trickier than it appears. What one party sees as a change requiring the intervention of a modification lawyer may end up not meeting the Court’s criteria for a change. Put another way: Courts do not like to yo-yo kids back and forth just because parents change aspects of their lives. Does an interstate move require a modification? Not necessarily. How about living with a druggie boyfriend or girlfriend? Yes, often, and if such conduct is harmful to the child, or creates even a risk of harm, courts may, and often do, change custody on the spot.
So you see, courts try to balance many factors: stability, risk of harm, emotional distress, even cost, but always strive to do what is in the child’s best interests, first and foremost.
Financial conditions of a party may also require a modification of the existing Decree or Court Order. Child support is often modified, as the obligor parent’s income usually changes substantially over the years. A party may remarry, or cohabit, and thus be ineligible for court-awarded alimony. Or a business might fail, a mortgage turn upside down, or someone is injured enough to be unable to work.
Like most area so family law, principles of modification are both fact and law sensitive.
Finally, modification should not be confused with enforcement. A failure to pay child support may have deeper issues requiring a modification attorney’s attention. If the non-payment is willful, or based on voluntary unemployment or underemployment,, an order to show cause might be appropriate to enforce the other to pay. Likewise, a parent refusing to allow court-ordered parent time, or interfering with parent time, may be held in contempt. But if that refusal is because Dad just ended up on the sex offender registry, her conduct may be justified.
Don’t guess. Get good legal advice from a lawyer in good standing, not from a bar buddy or well-meaning friend or relative.