Modifying an Existing Custody Order during and/or after a Divorce Proceeding

Once the court enters an order of custody, a parent always has the legal right to return to court to seek to modify the original parenting plan.  Contested custody proceedings, including modification proceedings, can present some of the most challenging and contentious situations for parents and for their children whether the proceeding occurs during the divorce or after a final judgment.

If a parent wants to modify an existing custody order the moving parent bears the burden of establishing that there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the original order. In determining whether there has been a substantial change in circumstances, the court must consider the rights and responsibilities of each of the parents, as well as a number of other statutory criteria, including whether the modification serves the children’s best interests.  No single statutory criterion is controlling nor is the court limited to the criteria specified by law.  Factors considered by the court include, but are not limited to the following:

(1) The developmental needs of the children;

(2) Each parent’s ability to meet and understand the needs of the children;

(3) The past and current interaction(s) and relationship(s) of the children with each parent, the children’s siblings and/or other significant contacts to the children;

(4) The children’s adjustment to his or her home, school and community    environments;

(5) The length of time that the children have lived in a stable and satisfactory environment and the             desirability of maintaining continuity in such environment, provided the court may consider favorably a parent who voluntarily leaves the children’s family home during a divorce proceeding in order to alleviate stress in the household;

(6) The stability of the children’s existing or proposed residences;

(7) The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a continuing parent-child relationship between the children and the other parent; and

(8) Any coercive behavior of the parents in an effort to involve the children in parental disputes.

There are many reasons why a parent may seek to modify an existing custody order.  Sometimes the parenting plan schedule may no longer work for one or both of the parents as a result of a change in work and/or the children’s school schedules.  Other times the children’s developmental and/or psychological needs may have changed or the children may not have adjusted well to an existing home, school and/or community environment.  There is no single wrong or right reason to modify a parenting plan.

At Broder & Orland LLC we understand that parenting time arrangements can be complex and sometimes must be modified to meet each family’s changing needs. We are adept at advising our clients on the strategies involved in establishing a parenting plan and understand the multitude of factors considered by a Court during a modification custody proceeding. We also recognize the emotional stresses and challenges that contested custody matters can pose on parents and on their children and we are empathetic to our clients’ needs.