Ideally, divorce means you can end a painful chapter of your life. However, when former spouses have children, disputes regarding child custody arise as their lives and circumstances change. Representation by an experienced Philadelphia child custody lawyer is essential if you want to modify an existing custody order in Pennsylvania.
In this article, the experienced child custody lawyers at Schwartz, Fox, and Saltzman, LLC, provide a brief overview of modifying a current child custody agreement following a divorce.
Child Custody Modifications After Divorce
Following a divorce, it is not unusual for one spouse or the other to obtain new employment, physically relocate, or remarry. Whether due to a substantial change in circumstances or new evidence that one parent is less fit to care for your child, it may become apparent that the current custody arrangement is not in the child’s best interest. Changing child custody arrangements after a divorce can be a necessary step to ensure the child’s well-being and best interests.
How Difficult Is It to Change a Child Custody Agreement?
Under Pennsylvania law ((§5338(a) of the Custody Statute in Pennsylvania), either parent can move to modify a child custody order. Modifying a child custody order is a serious matter which requires substantial evidence which demonstrates the modification serves the child’s best interests ((§5328(a) of the Custody Statute in Pennsylvania). The parent seeking the modification bears the burden of proof.
Child Custody Modification Process
Modifying a child custody order in Pennsylvania is a complex process. Understanding the procedure is crucial for a successful modification. This section outlines the key steps involved, including filing a petition to modify custody, serving the other parent, and attending a hearing.
File a Custody Modification Motion
To initiate a child custody modification, you must file a petition to modify custody with the Pennsylvania court. Specifically, the petition must be filed with the court which issued the original custody order. The petition must clearly state how the modification serves the child’s best interest.
Serve the Other Parent
After filing the custody modification motion, the court will serve the other parent with the summons and petition for modification. Service of process is intended to provide a party with formal notice of legal action.
Attend Your Hearing
Attending the custody modification hearing or conference is a critical step in the process. At the hearing, you will have a chance to present evidence and testimony. Due to the complex laws surrounding child custody modification, you should retain an experienced family law attorney to represent you in court. If the requested modification cannot be agreed to at the conference, a trial date will be provided. At the trial, you and the other parent will appear before a Judge.
Why the Court Would Change a Child Custody Arrangement
Each custody determination is based on the unique facts surrounding divorce and the relationship between the former spouses. As previously stated, courts issue custody orders and subsequently modify them if they serve the child’s best interest. Accordingly, there are multiple reasons a judge will change custody in Pennsylvania:
- Physical relocation – the custodial parent may obtain new employment requiring them to move a significant distance in State or move out of State.
- Substance abuse – one parent may develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol which could affect the child’s health and welfare.
- Physical abuse – the child may be the victim of physical abuse by one parent or a person in the parent’s household.
- Disobeying a custody order – one parent may continually violate the terms of a custody order.
- Parental alienation – one parent may attempt to influence the child in order to turn them against the other parent.
Timeline of a Child Custody Modification
A common question people have is, “How long does it take to change a custody decision”? Unfortunately, the answer depends on several factors, such as the number of cases on the court’s docket, the type of custody modification being litigated, etc. Generally, it is reasonable to expect a child modification case to take approximately 6 to 12 months to resolve, or, it can take longer.
What to Do If Your Ex Disputes the Modification Filing
It is not unusual if the other parent disputes your petition to modify custody. As the parent seeking the child custody modification, you still bear the burden of proving the modification is in your child’s best interest, even if your ex opposes your petition. As your ex’s opposition will make it more difficult to prove your case, you should retain an experienced child custody attorney who can advocate on your behalf in court.
Talk with a Family Law Attorney About Modifying Child Custody
Many people mistakenly seek to modify child custody without legal representation. The experienced child custody lawyers at Schwartz, Fox, and Saltzman, LLC, have been litigating child custody matters for over 40 years. Contact us today for a free consultation.
Summary of Changing Custody After Divorce
Child custody orders are not set in stone. Modifying the original custody agreement is difficult and requires the parent to seek a custody change to prove the modification is in the child’s best interest. While there are numerous reasons a judge may change a custody order following a divorce, representation by a child custody lawyer is still essential.