In many divorces, child support and child custody can be the most contentious and difficult topics. Determining who pays child support and who gets legal and physical custody of the children can get complicated, and sometimes down the road, things change.
If your or your ex’s – or your child’s – circumstances have changed and you believe your existing child custody order should be changed as well, it’s a great idea to go over your options with a skilled family law attorney. You can always make an informal agreement with your ex-spouse to change child custody arrangements, but without a formal court order, you have no recourse if your ex violates any aspect of the arrangement.
In the meantime, we have some common questions and answers about modifying child custody agreements.
Can a child custody order be changed?
Yes. Although it may be difficult, a Maryland child custody order is not permanent and can be modified by the court – if circumstances warrant it and the court determines the change is in the best interests of the child or children.
How does the court determine if a modification is necessary?
The first thing the court does is consider whether there is an eligible change in circumstances. This is called a “material change” and must have an impact on the welfare of the child. If the child is doing well in their current environment, chances are the court won’t modify custody, as judges tend to prioritize continuity and the welfare of the child. However, if suddenly the child is no longer thriving – negative behavior, depression, slipping grades, etc. – the court may find that to be a material change.
If the court finds a material change has occurred, a new custody proceeding will begin.
Can a custody order be modified if one parent wants to relocate?
Relocation of one parent may count as a material change in circumstance where it impacts the interests of the child. Depending on how far the parent is planning on moving, it may be enough to warrant a change in custody. Again, however, the court then must determine what arrangement is in the best interest of the child.
What about child support?
Just like child custody, child support orders can also be modified if there’s a material change in circumstances, like a significant increase or decrease in income, or a change in childcare or other expenses. Modification of child support orders must also be made through the court.
Does a child custody order modification work retroactively?
No. The court can only modify your child custody order from the date the request is filed.
If my ex-partner and I agree to the modification, do we really need a court order?
Yes, you really do. Legally, you don’t have to have to have a court order. But unless you have that formal agreement in writing, the courts don’t have to honor any verbal or “handshake” custody deal. So even if you and your ex are in complete consensus about changing your child support agreement, you should always have – at the very least – a written document, but it’s advised to get a court order for your own peace of mind and the safety of your child.
The Bethesda family law attorneys at McCabe Russell, PA are here to answer your questions about child custody and child support. We know that the best interests of your children come first and we can help. To speak with an experienced lawyer serving Montgomery County clients, please call 443-917-3347 or fill out our contact form. We also maintain offices in Columbia, Rockville and Fulton.