When circumstances change, parents may agree to informally modify a custody agreement. Although getting along with your co-parent is good for everyone involved, changing a custody agreement is something that should be done by filing the proper paperwork with the court. At Thomas, Conrad & Conrad, our divorce attorneys frequently assist parents and guardians with this process, which can help families avoid conflict in the future.
Changing A Custody Agreement In Pennsylvania
Modification By Mutual Agreement
The easiest way to modify a child custody arrangement is by mutual agreement. This means that both parents come to an agreement on any modifications that are made. Although this option is generally less stressful for everyone involved, it’s critical to consult an attorney to ensure specific issues are discussed and included in the amended agreement.
Depending on the circumstances, changing a custody agreement may have an impact on child support, parenting time, work schedules, and other matters. If you’re unfamiliar with the law, you may not realize how a new custody arrangement may affect these issues. For example, if you have primary custody of your children and your ex-spouse pays child support, if the amount of time your children spend with your ex increases, the amount of support you receive may change.
Even if you and your co-parent have a cordial relationship, emotions can run high when it comes to matters involving child custody and support. Having an attorney who’s well-versed in family court processes can make it easier to come to a mutual agreement and ensure all important issues are acknowledged in writing. Once both parties come to an agreement, your custody lawyer will review it, address any potential problems, and file it with the appropriate court.
Altering A Custody Arrangement By Court Petition
If things are contentious and you can’t come to a resolution, petitioning the court for a modification is usually necessary. However, before you go to court your lawyer may be able to negotiate a fair agreement that is amenable to both parties. If you do need to petition the court to change custody arrangements, there are specific forms that must be filed with the court where your existing agreement was finalized. Your lawyer can help you complete the petition to modify custody form, which should include:
- The specific changes you wish to make
- The reasons why you’re requesting these changes
- How these modifications to custody or visitation will benefit your children
When determining custody and visitation, Pennsylvania courts apply a best interest standard, which means that the judge’s decision to amend your agreement is based on what meets the needs and protects the interests of your children. Your family law attorney will ensure that your petition includes all relevant, specific details and can draft a petition that clearly lays out the reasons you’re seeking these changes.
Will I Have To Attend A Child Custody Modification Hearing?
If you’re able to reach a mutual agreement, you probably won’t have to attend a hearing. If one parent is opposed to changing the custody agreement, you’ll have to present evidence to the court showing how the modifications will benefit your children. Your family law attorney can help you determine what type of documentation you’ll need to demonstrate that the changes are in your children’s best interests and present your case to the judge. If the changes clearly benefit the parent more than the child, it’s unlikely that a judge will approve requested modifications. When taking the children’s best interests into consideration, the judge will weigh certain factors, including:
- Which parent encourages and supports the relationship between the children and other parent
- Each parent’s living situation
- Whether there is a history of child abuse or domestic violence
- The current involvement of each parent in the child’s life
- The child’s relationships with siblings and extended family members
- How changes may affect the stability of the child’s home life, education, and health
Depending on a child’s age and maturity level, the judge may consider their preferences for custody and visitation as well.
Contact A Child Custody Attorney
Our family law attorneys at Thomas, Conrad & Conrad help parents and children throughout Eastern Pennsylvania with issues surrounding custody, divorce, domestic violence, and other matters. If you’re considering changing a custody agreement, we can put our conflict resolution skills to work for you and help you with any filings and hearings that may be required to modify your existing order. Call us at 610-867-2900 in Bethlehem or contact us online to schedule a consultation. We also have several convenient locations in Stroudsburg, Topton, and Allentown, Pennsylvania.