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The when and how of changing a custody order

Change is a fact of life. We all know it, but parents know it especially well. Whether change is a choice or happens because of unforeseen circumstances, we are forced to adjust. When you have a child custody plan to work around, however, adjusting can be difficult. In some cases, changing the custody plan may be the best option.

When can a custody plan be changed?

In Missouri, child custody plans can be changed for several different reasons. The standard for review to modify a Custody Order is a Substantial And Continuing Change of Circumstances. For example, if you start a new job that will have different hours than your old job, you may need to modify your custody order. Other reasons to adjust a custody plan include:

  • One parent becomes unfit due to substance abuse, criminal behavior or other reasons
  • One parent plans to move out of the region or state
  • One parent refuses to comply with the existing order
  • One parent puts the child in danger by having the child present in dangerous situations

As with everything else related to child custody, a modification must be made with the best interests of the child in mind.

2 ways to modify a custody order

There are two ways to modify an existing custody order. Which way you use depends on one thing: whether you and your child's other parent agree 100% on the changes.

If you agree, the agreed upon changes can be made official (enforceable) by the filing of a Consent Modification with the Court. The Consent Modification will include a complete list of all the changes to the Parenting Plan. Common items that are often modified include:

  • Parenting time with each parent, including everything from minimal changes up to and including a complete change of custody
  • The claiming of the child in relation to tax exemptions
  • Child support, including changing the amount and sometimes changing which parent receives support from the other parent
  • Health insurance: Premiums are always changing and perhaps the insurance available is now better or less expensive for the parent that was originally not ordered to provide insurance.
  • The split of child care expenses or the complete removal of child care expenses due to the age of the child.
  • College expenses for the child and how the costs will be allocated, or if the Court will even entertain the subject of college expenses.

Depending upon the nature of the changes, the court may or may not approve your changes without a hearing. Modifications that involve physical custody changes typically require a non-contested hearing to make the order binding.

If you would like to modify your custody plan but your child's other parent does not, your situation will be considered contested. You will need to file a Motion to Modify Petition with the court and request a hearing. Typically, the Judge will require at least one settlement conference in the presence of the Judge prior to scheduling a hearing. At your hearing, you will be required to show evidence that supports your request. The Judge will then consider the evidence and enter a Judgment.

How to protect yourself

Modifying a custody order is not always an easy process. To give yourself the best chance of getting the outcome you want, it is wise to work with an experienced family law attorney. An experienced family law attorney will know not only the state statutes, but also the local rules for the circuit in which your case will be filed. Especially if your child's other parent disagrees with the modification, an attorney can help you build a strong case in support of your request.

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Zolman Law Firm
10805 Sunset Office Drive
Suite 312
St. Louis, MO 63127

Phone: 314-375-5237
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