Can I Change a Child Custody Order in Pasco County, Florida?
Many parents are understandably less than satisfied with their custody arrangements, especially if they are subject to an unfavorable time-sharing arrangement. Circumstances will inevitably change in the months or years following a contentious divorce, and your custody arrangement should reflect your current situation and the evolving best interests of your child. Florida does allow parents to petition for child custody order modifications under certain circumstances.
Can I Request a Child Custody Order Modification If I Am Unsatisfied with the Current Arrangement?
You may not feel like your current child custody arrangement is fair, especially if you are unable to see your child as much as you would like or believe that the other parent is not sufficiently caring for the child. Unfortunately, even well-founded dissatisfaction with the current arrangement is rarely considered a sufficient reason to modify a child custody order.
Whenever a judge considers a child custody arrangement, they assess what they believe to be in the best interest of the child. The default assumption is that the current arrangement continues to serve those interests unless a parent can prove otherwise. As a result, a judge is not likely to grant any requested changes unless you can demonstrate that there has been a substantial, material, and unforeseeable change in circumstances.
What Is Considered a Substantial, Material, and Unforeseeable Change in Circumstances?
A qualifying change in circumstances is one that significantly alters a parent’s ability to care for the child and therefore inarguably impacts what is in the best interest of the child. In general, a substantial change will result in the deterioration of someone’s parenting ability.
Examples of substantial changes in circumstances that might warrant child custody modifications include:
- A serious injury or illness. If a parent develops a debilitating illness or suffers an injury that prevents them from adequately caring for the child, the other parent may need to take on a more active role. For example, a parent with majority time-sharing might get in a major car accident and sustain injuries that do not enable them to walk. If these mobility issues (and time needed for rehabilitative care) prevent the parent from caring for the child, the minority time-sharing parent might request a modification to secure more time.
- A significant relocation. A parent cannot relocate more than 50 miles away from their existing residence without getting permission from the other parent and/or securing a custody modification that allows the change. Moving to a new residence within 50 miles is generally acceptable and will not require special permission from the other parent or court. If a parent with majority time-sharing gets a promotion that requires them to move to a new state, however, the minority time-sharing parent does not automatically have to give permission, and a new child custody arrangement will need to be determined by the court.
- The development of an addiction or a pattern of violent behavior. A parent must not endanger their child. A parent’s chronic over-reliance on drugs or alcohol can place a child’s health in jeopardy and could be a legitimate reason to request a child custody modification. Keep in mind that an addiction or a pattern of violent behavior must have emerged after the most recent child custody arrangement was established. If a majority time-sharing parent were to lose their job following a divorce and developed severe alcoholism, preventing them from adequately caring for their child, the minority time-sharing parent would likely have a case to request a modification.
Keep in mind that not all changes in circumstances will necessarily justify changes to a child custody arrangement. A single minor criminal offense, violent incident, or one-time abuse of drugs or alcohol will not be considered sufficiently “substantial.”
Remember, when you request any change to a child custody arrangement, the judge will once again consider what is in the best interest of the child. Your goal should be to prove that the modification you are seeking is in the best interest of the child as a direct result of the change in circumstances. You will be expected to provide evidence of the change and how it is impacting the child.
Consider an example scenario. You are presently in an equal time-sharing arrangement with your ex-spouse, who you feel to be an unfit parent that does not adequately meet the child’s needs. You notice that your ex-spouse has begun to drink alcohol more heavily over the past several weeks, and your child has mentioned their discomfort with it more than once. Perhaps your ex-spouse has been forgetting to pick your child up from school. Because your ex-spouse has developed an addiction that is harming the child, you can likely pursue a modification to child custody and request a majority time-sharing arrangement. The court may agree with your request once you demonstrate that your ex-spouse alcohol abuse is detrimental to the child.
Are There Other Situations Where Child Custody Can Be Modified?
There are some other scenarios where child custody modifications can be successfully sought. If the parents agree on a change, they can efficiently request the modification from the court. A judge will generally approve any requested modifications that are uncontested.
Temporary child custody modifications can also be granted in emergency scenarios where a parent and/or child may be in immediate danger. If your ex-spouse’s violent behavior forces you or your child to call the police and/or seek a protective order, a judge may give you sole custody over your child until the situation has been resolved and any applicable protective orders have been lifted.
Successfully securing any type of contested child custody modification can be a challenging endeavor, but strong legal representation can help. Attorney Bernstein has over 35 years of legal experience and is familiar with how these types of requests are adjudicated in Pasco County, Florida. Dale L. Bernstein, Chartered Law Office can help you navigate changes in circumstances and obtain the best possible outcome for your family.
If you need help seeking a child custody modification in Florida, do not hesitate to contact our firm online or call (727) 312-1112.