Court decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. As life moves forward, there may be changes that affect your family law order (typically called a “Parenting Plan”). This is especially true concerning child custody matters. Fortunately, these orders can be modified in certain circumstances. Understanding when and how to make custody modifications is critical to ensuring that you and your family can adapt to the changes. Count on the experience of Bob Matteucci to help.
Custody Cases that Are Eligible for Modifications
Changes are inevitable, and if they affect your child’s well-being, they may require modifications to your prior custody and visitation order. However, not every change that you, your child, or the child’s other parent encounters will support a modification. In New Mexico, child custody and visitation orders can be modified, but only if there has been a “material and substantial change” affecting the child. This, of course, is a fact-specific question that will vary from one case to another.
There are two different ways child custody modifications can occur. The first is for the parents to consent to a modification. With or without attorneys, the parents can file a mutually agreed upon modification order and submit it for the judge’s consideration. If the judge approves, the order will be signed and will thereafter replace the previous one.
If both parents cannot agree to a proposed change, then the one who wants the modification can file a motion. The court will then set a hearing and the judge will decide whether to modify the prior order or leave it be. Of course, the parties’ attorneys should work together to find a fair resolution before a court hearing is necessary.
Reasons to Modify a Custody Order
The reasons a parent (or both parents) may want to change custody and visitation are numerous. Some of the most common ones include:
A parent, or both parents, can’t make the current schedule work. Custody and visitation schedules can become difficult to abide by as life changes. Work obligations, career changes, or other circumstances may make it difficult for the parent with custody or visitation to continue following it.
Moving. If one or both parents have moved or are planning to move, there’s a good chance the custody and visitation order will have to be changed. Sometimes parents want to move with the child. Or, the child may stay where he or she is, but the moving parent needs to change the schedule. Although it’s a good idea for parents to try to agree to these modifications on their own, this isn’t always possible.
Drug or alcohol abuse. If a parent develops a drug habit or becomes an alcoholic, he or she may be putting the child’s safety at risk. There are cases in which a parent will show up for visitation drunk or under the influence, and then attempt to drive with the child. Circumstances such as these may require immediate court intervention to protect the child’s well-being.
Physical or sexual abuse. That urgency is especially pronounced if the child is being physically or sexually abused. If you suspect this sort of abuse is happening, contact your attorney right away so the quickest action can be taken to protect your child.
Changes in the child’s preferences. As children grow older, they may prefer to live with one parent over the other, or change which parent they spend the majority of time with. Once a child reaches age 14, the court may consider what he or she wants. However, as with all custody decisions, the judge has to look at what’s in the child’s best interests.
What Will the Court Consider?
In evaluating your motion, the judge has to look at several factors to determine if there is a material or substantial change that requires a modification. Some of those include:
The best interests of the child. First and foremost, the change must affect the child’s well-being. If the judge doesn’t think that whatever has happened seriously jeopardizes it, the motion may not be granted.
Whether the change is temporary or permanent. Some changes, like being assigned to a work project that affects a parent’s schedule, may be temporary. A judge is less likely to upend the prior order in a case like this.
Minor issues. If a parent has been a few minutes late to pick up the child or occasionally missed a visitation, this usually isn’t enough to modify the order. But persistent and repeated problems with keeping the custody and visitation schedule could justify a modification.
Why the parent wants the change. Judges need a good reason to change a previous custody order. Therefore, they will consider the reason the parent wants the modification.
How a Child Custody Modifications Attorney Can Help
If you and the other parent can agree to the modification, it’s still important to properly draft the proposed court order. The judge will review the proposed order to ensure that the change is substantial and the child’s best interests are being protected. A knowledgeable child custody attorney can help with these critical steps.
There are cases in which the parents agree that a change needs to be made but can’t quite agree on the details. If this applies to your situation, then mediation may be the best option. Mediation can save significant time and money and allow the parties to reach an agreement without the need for extensive litigation.
Finally, in the event you and the other parent simply can’t see eye to eye, we can take your case before the judge. Whether you are the parent who wants the change or the one who wants to keep the order as it is, put Bob Matteucci’s solid and successful experience to the test.
Utilize Bob’s Sound Experience to Successfully Navigate Your Child Custody Modification Issue
Whether you need a modification to your custody order or the other parent wants one that you don’t believe will be in the child’s best interests, Bob is here to serve you. Contact our office today to get started.
Matteucci Family Law Firm helps families with child custody modifications all across New Mexico including Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Los Lunas, and Rio Rancho.