No judge or attorney can foresee all circumstances that may arise down the road, when child custody arrangements are initially determined. The reality of most child custody arrangements is that they only work under the situations in place at the time they are put into effect. People move, they remarry, job situations change, and sometimes the behavior of a parent requires modification of child custody arrangements originally created need to be modified to ensure that the bests interests of the children are preserved. Whatever the reason for desiring a modification of child custody or visitation arrangements, working with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney can make this process far more manageable.
What is the Legal Basis for Modification of an Existing Child Custody Order?
In order to modify an existing custody or visitation order, a change in circumstances since the date of entry of the last order must have occurred. A “change in circumstances” is required in order to have a court modify child custody and visitation orders. Once a change in circumstances is proven, the court then determines whether a child custody or visitation modification is necessary.
Factors Considered By the Court in Modifying Child Custody or Visitation.
When the court is considering modification of child custody or visitation orders, it applies the “best interests of the child” standard, as set forth in Virginia Code § 20-124.3. The factors considered by the court include, but are not limited to the following:
1. The age and physical and mental condition of the child, giving due consideration to the child’s changing developmental needs;
2. The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;
3. The relationship existing between each parent and each child, giving due consideration to the positive involvement with the child’s life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual and physical needs of the child;
4. The needs of the child, giving due consideration to other important relationships of the child, including but not limited to siblings, peers and extended family members;
5. The role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;
6. The propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child;
7. The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child;
8. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience to express such a preference;
9. Any history of family abuse as that term is defined in § 16.1-228 or sexual abuse. If the court finds such a history, the court may disregard the factors in subdivision 6; and
10. Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.
For more information on modifications of existing custody and visitation arrangements, and to obtain specific advice on the laws applicable to your situation, please contact us to schedule a consultation.