Custody and visitation agreements can be the most hard-fought of battles when parents divorce – and even having an official order in place doesn’t necessarily end the drama.
Custody and visitation agreements often need to be modified over time. When there’s been a substantial change in circumstances since the last order was made, the court will generally allow parents to either modify the agreement by mutual consent or bring motions for a court-directed change.
What counts as a “substantial” change in circumstances?
The idea that modifications must be tied to substantial changes in circumstances is there precisely so that parents don’t drag each other into court all the time over minor disagreements.
Substantial changes might include a parent’s serious illness that affects their ability to care for the child, or a child’s serious illness that affects their ability to transition between households. It could also include issues of abuse or domestic violence in one household, or when one parent wishes to move out of the area, among other things.
What has to be done to obtain a court-directed modification?
In North Carolina, mediation is required in all custody and visitation requests before the court will make any ruling. That encourages parents to resolve their issues without forcing the court to make the decisions for their family.
If that’s not possible, then the court will schedule a hearing to consider the modification request. At the hearing, both parents will have the opportunity to present evidence and arguments in support of their positions. If the court determines that there has been a substantial change in circumstances, the court will then issue a written order outlining the new visitation schedule.
As always, the court will consider modification requests based on whatever it believes is in the best interests of the child – not the parents – so you want to be very certain that you have a sound basis for your request. It can help to get an experienced legal take on the situation before you act.