What are the Legal Requirements to Change Custody?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 27 January 2020
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The requirements a person has to meet in order to change custody may depend on where he lives, as laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Usually, there is a formal procedure a person has to follow, which usually involves petitioning for custody with a formal document and then showing up for the hearing the court sets. Often, there is a fee involved for requesting a custody change, and some jurisdictions require the opposing parties to meet for mediation before their court date. Additionally, many judges are reluctant to change custody when the current order appears to be working well for the child. As such, an individual may have to prove a change of circumstances that warrants a custody change.

In many jurisdictions, a person has to prepare a motion to modify or petition for modification to ask a court to change custody. Often, courts provide self-help forms a person can use to request a custody change. If an individual uses an attorney to pursue a custody change, an attorney will usually prepare the required documents rather than using the court’s forms. Either way, however, these documents have to be submitted to the court that has jurisdiction over the custody matter before a custody change case may begin.


While the laws for custody changes may depend on the court system that has jurisdiction over the case, many courts systems are unwilling to make custody changes based on the whims of those involved. In many cases, a party has to prove that a change would be in the best interest of the child or he may have to demonstrate that a change should be granted because of a change in circumstances as well. If a court has only created a temporary custody order, a person may only be required to show that the custody change would benefit the child. If the court has created a final or permanent custody order, however, a person would usually have to both show a change of circumstances and convince the court that the change would be in the child’s best interest.

Once a petition to change custody has been filed, a court typically sets a hearing at which the opposing parties can state their cases. The judge will then rule in the case in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction. In some places, however, parties are legally required to meet with a third party who attempts to help them come to an agreement. This process is often referred to as mediation or conciliation. If the parties are unable to come to an agreement, however, the next step is usually a court hearing.


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