Modifying Court Orders to Fit Your Changing Life

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Judge signing documents with a gavel by his side.
If you are making changes to your life, court orders can also be modified to fit your new life.

When Can You Make Changes to Child Custody or Support?

Life can move fast. Sometimes a substantial change in circumstances to your job, living arrangement, or something else means that the child custody or support orders a judge signed no longer work for you. If you, your parenting partner, or your children are experiencing a change significant enough that your order is no longer appropriate, you may want to modify your court orders.

The lawyers at Sean Lynch + Associates have guided many families in Fort Worth through the challenging process of modifying a court order.

Common Reasons For Modifications

Parents who request child support modifications want the court to reduce the amount they pay or increase the amount they receive. You may request a reduction because of a financial setback or health issues. You may also seek higher payments if your child’s other parent’s finances have significantly improved. Texas laws are strict about child support obligations. The courts will focus on the best interests of the child, and our team will work to protect your rights.

Similarly, with child custody issues, if you or your former partner has experienced a substantial life change, your current custody plan may no longer work for you and your children. In fact, a common reason for requesting a modification is when a teen wants to live with the other parent, drug use, or criminal behavior of the other parent. Bringing these matters to court is complex. The Sean Lynch + Associates law firm will help you prioritize your goals before presenting them in court.

What Does It Mean To Modify A Court Order?

Modifying a court order means a legal change in the terms of a divorce decree.

You or your attorney will have to file a petition to modify a court order with the court that issued the order previously. However, the judge and the court have the final right to decide whether to modify the order or not.

If your child has lived in another Texas county for the last 6 months, you must file the modification case in the county where the order was made. However, you can ask the court to transfer the case to the new county. If your child has lived in another state for the last 6 months, you will need to consult your lawyer about where to file the case.

The judge will rarely agree to any legal changes to property division after the deadline to appeal a divorce decree. However, it is much easier to modify child support or child custody orders. This is because the courts recognize that a child’s needs will change over time.

Conditions For Modification

Generally, the court will hear a petition to modify the order a year after the last order or divorce decree. If you want to file a suit to modify the order within one year, you must show that the child’s present environment threatens a child’s physical health or emotional development. Alternatively, the person with child custody must agree to the legal order being changed or has voluntarily relinquished primary care and possession of the child for at least six months, except in the case of military deployment.

To ask a Texas court to modify custody, you must meet either of the following conditions:

  • The child is at least 12 years old and wants to change the primary caregiver
  • The change to the custody orders will be in the best interest of the child
  • The person with primary custody has relinquished care and possession of the child for at least 6 months. This must be for reasons other than military deployment
  • There has been a material and substantial change in circumstances

Examples of a material and substantial change in circumstances include:

Material and Substantial Change In Circumstances

  • Unemployment of one parent or a change in their financial situation that affects their ability to care for the child
  • Relocation to another state due to a job that will affect the child’s time with the other parent
  • Changes to parents’ marital status such as a remarriage that has a negative impact on the child
  • Child abuse or neglect which threatens the child’s physical health and emotional development
  • Substance abuse by either parent
  • Medical conditions that reduce one parent’s ability to care for the child

A motion can be deemed to be frivolous if the motivation behind the motion seems fishy. The judge can penalize you for filing an inappropriate motion.

What If We Have An Informal Agreement?

If you have an informal agreement on new changes to an existing order, there is the risk that the agreement can fall apart when conflict arises. You will not be able to get legal enforcement of an informal agreement under Texas law. Ideally, you or your lawyer should have the new terms added to your divorce order.

The court can hold a parent liable for not meeting their child support obligations even if the other person is sympathetic. On the other hand, there is no guarantee that another parent will pay more child support than they are required to under court orders without a legal modification to the terms.

Modifying A Child Support Order

You can file a petition to make a modification to an existing child support order. However, you have to show that the other person’s income or your income has changed significantly.

If you have lost a job or received a pay cut, you can file a legal petition for modification to reduce the amount of child support you have to pay. You can also ask an attorney for help to do so. You will have the right to do so since your circumstances have changed. Conversely, if you have a major increase in income due to a new role or a new job, the court can change the amount of child support and medical support you need to pay. You can discuss your case with a lawyer if you don’t agree with the order.

Modifying A Child Custody Order

The needs of children can change as they grow up. Your child may want to spend more time with one parent. Alternatively, they can start to resent having to comply with strict custody arrangements. They can also express their wish to change their primary caregiver once they are over the age of 12. In this case, a child can make the modification request to a Texas court.

If you have primary custody and you want to move to another city or state, you will need to file a modification petition as that will affect the parenting time for the other parent. Your family law attorney can help you make your case to the judge.

In another case, a custodial parent could forfeit their right to care for the children for more than 6 months. This would allow the non-custodial parent to make the case to the court to have primary custody transferred to them. The non-custodial parent or their lawyer must petition the court for the modification.

Modifying A Visitation Order

The court may modify a visitation order in some cases. For example, parents could be dissatisfied with the visitation schedule or are unable to comply with it due to genuine difficulties. Sometimes there may be changes over time as your children grow up that require a new visitation schedule. You can get the help of your attorney or a law firm to file a motion for the visitation order modification.

If one of the parents is facing a conviction for child abuse or family violence, the other parent may ask the court for a modification to reduce the visitation rights of the other parent.

How Long Do You Have To Wait To Modify Custody?

The time it takes to modify the child custody order depends on whether parents agree on the need to. If both parents agree, you need to submit a proposed child custody order to the court that includes the changes. The court will review it to ensure it is in the child’s best interests before approving the order. When determining the best interest of the child, the judge will consider the child’s needs, relationship with either parent, and their wishes if they are old enough to express it.

If either parent does not agree to change a custody order, both of you will need to go to court. You may need help from your lawyer to fight your case in court. This can take more time to get your proposed changes passed.

Reach Out To Us

Ideally, you and your former partner can negotiate an agreeable modification. This may streamline the process as long as your agreement complies with Texas law. If you need help, our experienced family law attorneys will review your agreement, provide legal advice, and fight for your goals in court. Contact us at 817-668-6704 or through email to schedule your no-cost 30-minute consultation with our law firm.