During a divorce, even the most common steps of your daily life are changed, and that’s especially true for children affected by the process. Your daily schedule, living situation, income, and assets all go through transitions while you adjust to your new normal. Though this can feel overwhelming at first, families eventually adjust, and each change begins to feel like an old habit.
Just because your family goes through significant changes during this time does not mean that nothing can ever change again. Once the dust has settled, many families find that their new situations need to be modified to accurately fit their needs. Even if this isn’t the case, life goes on, and eventually, the situation turns into something different than it was.
When it comes to scheduling parenting time during divorce, it can be easier to schedule on paper than to do so in real life. However, like all other adults, parents have entire lives outside of their children, and sometimes those lives make custody messy and complicated. In these cases, it is helpful to know that child custody modification is an option.
In shared custody arrangements, both parents provide housing and guardianship to the child or children involved. Sometimes, this means that the child or children spend equal amounts of time with each parent. In other cases, weekdays are spent with one parent and weekends with another, for example. There are many different examples of how to schedule joint custody.
In sole custody, one parent cares for the child or children 100% of the time. This often occurs when one parent is far more fit to care for the children when one spouse moves far away, or one parent does not have an interest in parenting their children.
Many people call this “partial custody,” and that can be true in some cases. Sole custody with visitation means that one parent has primary care of the child or children, and the other parent is permitted to see or visit with them during strictly enforced times. However, this can also mean that one parent gets most custody, and the other parent cares for the children on rare occasions, such as every other weekend.
A significant distinction in the custody sector is the difference between physical custody and legal custody. In legal custody, the parent or parents involved have power over decisions about the child’s well-being. If a couple has joint legal custody, they will make significant decisions about the child’s life together.
The other type of custody is physical custody. This refers only to physical caretaking of the child, such as housing, feeding, entertaining, etc. If the parents have joint physical custody, this means that both parents will look after the child or children.
Parents can have joint physical custody, but one parent is to have sole legal custody. This means that the parents will each look after the child or children, but only one has the power to make legal decisions regarding the child’s life. The opposite is also true. A parent can have sole physical custody but joint legal custody, meaning the child or children will live with only one parent, but both parents will make legal and major decisions regarding their kids.
Another significant factor in child custody agreements is child support. According to the law, both parents must equally share in the responsibility of raising their children. Sometimes, it is not possible for both parents to care for the child in a guardianship role, so child support takes its place. Though money is not the same as sharing custody, it helps bridge the gap and makes sure that both parents are contributing equally.
There are no set rules for when child support is and is not required. As mentioned, it is used to spread the burden of child rearing equally between both of the child’s parents. In situations where one parent has the majority of the custody, the other parent is often required to pay child support.
However, child support can also be required in shared custody situations. For example, if one parent has a significantly higher income than the other parent and they share custody equally, the situation is still not equitable. This is because the percentage of each parent’s income that is spent on raising the children is not the same; the higher-earning parent may only need to use 10% of their income to feed, house, and entertain the children, whereas the lower-earning parent needs to use 40% to do the same thing. In these situations, the higher-earning parent may be required to pay child support on top of shared custody, to make the situation more equitable.
As we mentioned, family situations change all the time. Many families find that, as the kids get older and the parents rebuild new lives, the original child custody and child support agreements do not make sense anymore. This is normal and happens all the time.
Because child support and child custody arrangements are created and enforced by law, any changes must be made via the law. These changes are called modifications, and a specific legal process is required to create them.
Because they represent a significant legal process, modifications cannot be done on a whim. However, there are set reasons that a court may accept a modification and allow families to legally change their arrangements.
Co-parenting does not mean that the child’s parents have to stay in the same place forever. If one of the child’s parents moves away, the child custody arrangement will need to change.
However, it is important to note that parents cannot always move away whenever they wish. For custodial (primary care) parents especially, the court can require them to stay in the state if they plan to relocate the child with them.
Overall, if the relocation of one parent makes it difficult for the other parent to uphold their custody agreement, or if the move has a significant impact on the child, a modification may be made to the child custody and child support agreements.
As children grow, their set of needs often change. Though a toddler or young child may need time, attention, and financial support, a high school student is often reasonably self-sufficient. Once they are of age, they may get a job, join extracurriculars, or start/stop playing sports. All this can affect the amount of time, effort, and money each parent needs to commit to raising the child.
Similarly, a child’s needs can change after being diagnosed with a disease, disorder, mental illness, disability, etc. For example, more financial support may be required from each parent. Or, one parent may be more capable of caring for the child, and the custody arrangement may need to be changed.
If one parent violates the agreement, the court may decide to change the agreement altogether. Though this does not dismiss the parent from their obligations, a new arrangement may ensure that both parents contribute. For example, if a parent is supposed to have custody every other weekend but repeatedly does not show up to pick up the children, the court may decide that that parent should pay more child support instead of custody.
If a parent’s financial situation changes, such as earning a promotion or losing a job, they may need to modify the amount of child support they are paying.
If their physical situation changes, they may need to modify their child custody arrangement. For example, if a parent had been struggling with addiction when the child custody arrangement was created, they may have been deemed unfit to care for the kids. However, if the parent achieves three years of sobriety, the court may allow them custody of their children.
No matter the situation, financial or physical, the court has to see compelling evidence that the situation is different from when the agreement was created.
If it comes to light that the children are unsafe with one of the parents or are somehow being put in danger via the current agreement, a modification is warranted.
For example, if the parents have shared custody and the father’s new live-in girlfriend begins to physically abuse the kids, a modification is necessary to omit the father from having custody.
A modification can be requested in any situation in which the children encounter physical abuse, sexual abuse, violence, negligence, or other repeated dangers.
When it comes to child support and child custody modifications, you should always seek the help of experienced family law attorneys. As mentioned, these agreements are taken incredibly seriously in the courts. A judge spends a significant amount of time determining what is best for the children and must do the same for modifications. If you do not seek the help of a licensed attorney, the judge will not look kindly on your side of the story.
Many people believe that they can settle any child support and child custody modifications on their own outside of court. This is not true. Though you may trust that you and your ex-spouse will adhere to the changes you decide upon, nothing legally forces you to do so. This means that if you decide to change custody from sole custody with visitation to shared or joint custody without involving the court, the court cannot do anything to make sure that you both keep your word. So, if your spouse decides that they do not want to partake in shared custody for one week, they don’t show up, they can’t be legally penalized.
Child support modifications outside of the court are even more dangerous. Child support payments are taken into account for taxes, unemployment insurance, and more. If you increase the payments without going through the court, the supporting parent will not receive proper tax documents or get credit for new amounts paid. If the amounts decrease without legal involvement, the court may enact late fees and punishments on the supporting parent. That parent can even spend time in jail if the delinquent payments continue.
It is always better to seek the help of a professional and experienced attorney when you make modifications to your legal agreements. Though it takes slightly more planning, it saves you time, money, and heartache in the long run.
It is possible to seek a modification if the supporting parent cannot provide the child support initially discussed. However, the supporting parent should seek the court’s input on the situation regardless of whether a modification is made. Missed or late payments often accrue interest or penalties, only making the problem worse. If the supporting parent has fallen on hard times, the court may find a solution that alleviates the financial pressure until they get back on their feet.
It is important to note that modifications do not pardon a supporting parent for any missing or late payments. They will still need to pay those support payments, even if the modification relieves them of future ones.
Here at Johnson Law Group, we provide families with the legal advice they need to move forward. Whether you are divorcing, drafting a child support agreement, or modifying, we can help you create a family structure that works for you in the present moment.
For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact us today. We understand the complexities of divorce law. We can offer you experienced and compassionate help for your next steps.