Can Child Custody Be Changed After a Divorce?

Divorce can be one of the toughest times of your life where everything changes, from your living situation to the custody of your children. Often times in a divorce situation, custody of the child, or children, is split between the two parents equally. In some instance, one of the parents could have primary custody while the other parent only gets visitation occasionally. Whatever the scenario may be, you may be wondering if custody arrangements be changed after the divorce is finalized, and the answer to that is yes, child custody can be changed after a divorce. The reason for this is that the best interest of the child, or children, along with their needs may evolve over time and could lead to circumstances that warrant a change in the child custody agreement. 

When Can Custody Orders May Be Modified?

Under Texas law, either parent may file a petition seeking child custody modification any time. However, the petition must be filed at the court where the divorce was granted, unless the child has moved. In the event that the child has moved, the case may be transferred to the court in the new county that the child resides in. 

How swift the custody arrangement modifications are is entirely dependent on if both parents are in agreement. If both parents agree that there is a need to modify the order, all that needs to be done is submit is a proposed custody order reflecting the changes to the court. The court would then review the modification and approve it in most cases, and once the order has been approved, it becomes legally enforceable. However, in the cases where the parents do not agree on the need to modify the order, the modification process is lengthier, where both parents would have to appear in front of a judge to get modification of the custody arrangement. Under Texas law, the parent that wishes to modify the order must demonstrate that:

  • The child is 12 years old and wishes to change the primary caregiver; or
  • There has been a change in circumstances that is material and substantial; and 
  • The proposed changes to the order would serve the child’s best interests. 

If, for instance, the child was under the age of 12 or they do not wis to change the primary caregiver, the order cannot be modified unless the change in circumstances has been material and substantial. In Texas, the courts have interpretated “material and substantial” to mean:

  • Changes in marital status of the parents
  • Job relocations
  • Medical conditions
  • Abuse or neglect of the child by either parent
  • Substance abuse

How to Request a Custody Modification in Texas

To request a change to an existing custody arrangement you would have to file a written request, or motion, to modify the custody, which is referred to as a “Petition to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship.” The person filing the motion or request is known as the “petitioner” and will file the accompanying forms with the clerk of the county district court which issues the current order. The parent who receives the motions is known as the “respondent.” If the respondent won’t agree to the modification, but fails to file any papers objecting to the motion, you can proceed by default, which means that the case can continue without the respondent’s participation. You would then proceed as states above where you would stand in front of a judge and make your case and provide reasons for changing the custody arrangement. 

What If a Situation is Urgent?

Child custody modifications in a situation where urgency is needed would all depend on the degree of urgency. In Texas, family courts can issue temporary custody orders, even while a modification action is pending. If you believe that there’s possible danger to a child, such as from child abuse or neglect, you can ask the court for an emergency custody order and/or temporary restraining order (TRO). This is meant to get you into court quickly, and can result in a judge modifying an existing order so as to protect the child from potential harm. A TRO will usually remain in effect until the court can hold a full hearing on the facts and make a permanent order. 

If your circumstances have changed to the point where the child custody order no longer fits your situation, consult an experienced family law attorney. An attorney can assist you with obtaining a new order that would be a better fit for the new realities of your life. If you have any questions about a child custody case, contact a child custody lawyer in Dallas, TX, like the office of Brandy Austin Law Firm, PLLC.