Modification of Custody Orders
A judge can only reconsider an existing custody order (except a short-term or temporary order) if there has been proper cause or a change in circumstances.
Proper cause or a change in circumstances must be significant for the judge to consider changing custody. A change in circumstances must be something that happened after the last custody order was entered. To prove a change in circumstances, the moving party must show the judge that the change is more than just normal changes (good or bad) in the child’s life. The moving party must show the change has had or could have a significant effect on the child.
Proper cause must be related to at least one of the 12 best interests of the child factors. To amount to proper cause, something must have (or be likely to have) a significant effect on the child. Usually, events that amount to proper cause happen after entry of the last custody order.
A change in circumstances is similar to proper cause. If something that happened after the judge signed the last custody order qualifies as a change in circumstances, it is usually also proper cause. The reverse is also true.
Examples of proper cause or change in circumstances include (but are not limited to):
- A parent is absent from the home;
- A parent has begun abusing drugs or alcohol;
- A parent is routinely not providing proper care for a child;
- A parent has abused or neglected a child;
- The following examples generally do not qualify as a proper cause or change in circumstances;
- A parent’s financial problems, where the financial issues could be addressed by increasing the amount of child support;
- A child’s normal changes in needs and desires as they grow older;
- A child’s desire to change custody
If the moving party cannot prove proper cause or a change in circumstances, the judge will not change custody. The current custody order will stay in place.