When married couples with children decide to separate or divorce, one of the most contentious issues that arises is related to child custody, including where the children will actually reside. Determining physical custody involves many factors based on the best interests of the children. Some of the considerations that the court takes into account are the age of the children, daily activities, education, social connections, child-care arrangements, prior abandonment by a parent and who is the primary caregiver. In addition, the psychological and physical health of the parents is also considered during the decision-making process. The least amount of upheaval for children is optimal. Typically, one parent is awarded primary physical custody while the other parent is designated as the secondary physical custodian. Once this parenting order is established, it is a legally binding agreement to which both parents must adhere.
Material Change of Circumstances Required for Modification of a Child Custody Order
What happens then, when a child wishes to change their primary residence to the home of the non-custodial parent? This tends to become an issue when a child reaches their teenage years. Perhaps a child is not happy with the rules of the house in which they primarily live. The other parent may offer more freedom and fewer restrictions. Or, it may be that the child seeks more quality time with the non-custodial parent. No matter the reason, the decision is not up to the child. Any request for a modification to a child custody arrangement is a serious matter. Family courts need to ensure that any changes will continue to reflect what is in the best interest of the child.
The court that determined the original custody order will generally retain jurisdiction for any modifications. Beginning at the age of 10 or 12, most states will consider a child’s opinion on the issue. In order for the court to modify an existing agreement, a material or substantial change in circumstances must be shown. Maryland law requires the court to determine if a change in circumstances occurred and what if any impact it had on the welfare of the child.
Some examples of a change in circumstances that may warrant a modification of child custody include:
- Parental drug or alcohol addiction
- A parent who wishes to relocate to another state
- The presence of an unsafe figure in the residence putting the child at risk for harm
- A custodial parent denying visitation by the non-custodial parent
- Remarriage of one or both parents
- Evidence of domestic violence
- New employment situation
- Wishes of a child
Here are some tips to keep in mind if your child expresses a desire to live with your former spouse:
- Don’t speak negatively about your ex-spouse: Talking poorly about your former spouse can put a strain on your own relationship with your child. Keep your ill feelings to yourself. Instead, encourage your child to maintain a loving relationship with their other parent despite how you feel. Being a bad spouse doesn’t always equate to being a bad parent. Remember, your child loves and cares for both of you.
- Protect your legal rights: Discuss any changes in physical custody with your attorney and get the agreement in writing.
- Remember that you and your ex-spouse are still co-parents: Both parents need to remain present in the child’s life and do their best to work as a team when it comes to co-parenting. This cohesiveness will give your child the potential to thrive and grow in a healthy environment.
- Remain involved with your child: Take an active role in your child’s life and keep to the parenting time schedule. Call and visit your child as much as you can. This will help foster a strong, positive relationship with your child.
- Allow your child to express his or her feelings: A child often feels like their life is being turned upside down during a divorce. Listen to you children. Let their voice be heard and provide any necessary support.
Huesman, Jones and Miles, LLC: Experienced Bel Air Divorce Lawyers Providing Child Custody Modification Services for Clients throughout Baltimore County
If you have any questions regarding child custody modifications, contact Baltimore County divorce lawyers at Huesman, Jones and Miles, LLC. We understand the challenges you may be facing and can help you find a favorable resolution that best supports and upholds your relationship with your child. We are skilled trial lawyers who handle all types of family law and divorce matters related to child custody, child support, alimony, property distribution and parenting plans.
Our conveniently located Hunt Valley offices allow us to serve clients throughout Maryland, including Baltimore County, Harford County, Carroll County, and Howard County, as well as residents of Towson, Bel Air, Columbia, Westminster and Essex. To learn more about how our legal team can help you, call us today at (443) 589-0150 to schedule your free consultation with one of our reputable Bel Air divorce lawyers or use our online contact form.