Lakeland Child Custody Modification
When you share custody of a child with an ex-spouse, the court handling your case will order custody arrangements regarding visitation, child support, and parenting duties. However, life can change tremendously in the months and years following separation from an ex-spouse, and you may find the original arrangements are no longer suitable. The Lakeland child custody modification attorneys at the O’Mara Law Group can help. Contact us today to learn more.
A lot can change in the months and years following a divorce or separation. You or your ex-spouse may relocate, your income could change substantially, or your kids may want to spend additional time with their non-custodial parent. Any of these factors could mean that a change is also necessary in the child custody and support arrangements made at the time of your divorce.
However, securing child custody modifications can be complex. You must seek court approval for a change to the custody arrangement ordered when you first separated from your child’s other parent. In many cases, ex-spouses vigorously resist changes, making the task even harder.
Enlisting one of our Lakeland child custody modification attorneys can help. The experienced legal team at the O’Mara Law Group can explain the child custody modification process and assist you in presenting your case for court review. Contact us today to learn more.
What Is a Modification of Custody in Lakeland?
A child custody modification refers to a change in the final judgment of your divorce concerning parental responsibility, visitation rights, time-sharing, and child support obligations. Essentially, your petition will ask the judge presiding over your case to adjust its original order to better accommodate changes in your life circumstances.
Either spouse can request a modification in child custody arrangements. However, until the court reviews the petition and decides on an appropriate outcome, you must continue to abide by the terms in the original order.
Simply requesting a modification isn’t enough for a judge to grant your request. Florida courts must consider your child’s best interest when deciding whether a custody modification is appropriate. Further, if your ex-spouse disagrees with your petition, they can dispute it, which can lead to a lengthy court battle.
If you believe your circumstances warrant a modification of custody, enlist the help of a Lakeland child custody modification attorney at the O’Mara Law Group. Our legal team can explain the process of filing for a modification and help you prepare a strong case explaining why a change is necessary.
What Is the Process for Requesting a Custody Modification?
Requesting a custody modification begins by filing the appropriate paperwork with the court clerk in the county where the original order or judgment was entered. In your application, you will explain the changes in your circumstances justifying the request and the specific modifications you are seeking. You must also describe why the modification is in your child’s best interest.
Following the application submission, you must formally notify your ex-spouse so they can respond. Once they receive your notice, they have 20 days to file an answer. They can either agree or disagree with your request. If they disagree, the matter is contested, and you must file a notice for trial to continue.
If your ex-spouse fails to respond to the notice within 20 days, you can file a motion for default. You can then request a final hearing with the court to decide the outcome.
Florida courts suggest communicating with your ex-spouse before beginning a custody modification petition. If they agree to the changes, you will save time and make the process much simpler. However, if you can’t work out an agreement with your ex-spouse, our experienced Lakeland child custody modification attorneys at the O’Mara Law Group can navigate your case through the legal system.
Grounds for Custody Modifications in Lakeland
After finalizing a divorce, courts will only modify a child custody arrangement if there is a “substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances” and the modification is in the best interest of your child. A few examples for which a custody modification can make sense include the following:
1. Changes in Health
If you or your ex-spouse develop an illness, disease, or addiction that impacts your ability to care and provide for your child, a court may decide a modification is necessary. For instance, if you develop a serious cancer requiring months of chemotherapy, you could request a change in custody arrangements to transfer your child’s primary care to their other parent.
2. Financial Changes
If your child’s financial needs change substantially, or you become unable to provide for your child’s basic needs, the court may approve a child support or custody modification. For example, if you and your ex-spouse agree to send your child to a private school that charges yearly tuition, the court may increase child support to help cover the cost.
3. Parental Relocation
If you have custody over your child and need to relocate, you must make sure you do not violate your ex-spouse’s parental rights. If you both agree on the terms of the relocation, it is sufficient to enter a written relocation agreement that:
- Reflects consent to the relocation;
- Defines an access or time-sharing schedule for the nonrelocating parent and any other persons who are entitled to access or time-sharing; and
- Describes, if necessary, any transportation arrangements related to access or time-sharing.
The agreement must then be ratified in court. Either party can request an evidentiary hearing. If a hearing is not requested, the court will presume that the relocation is in the best interest of the child.
However, if you and your ex-spouse cannot agree on the terms of the relocation, you will need to file a Petition to Relocate. You must also give your ex-spouse notice that your petition has been filed. If they fail to respond to your notice, the court may presume that the relocation is in the best interest of the child and should be allowed.
4. Parent Facing Criminal Charges
If your ex-spouse is charged with a crime, the court may consider a child custody modification. Two factors considered by courts when determining custody arrangements are the child’s safety and their parent’s moral fitness, and criminal charges can raise questions on both fronts. If the criminal charge concerns neglect or abuse of the child, the court may prevent the parent from seeing them at all.
Factors Considered When Modifying Custody Agreements
Courts evaluate the full circumstances pertaining to the child’s well-being when determining custody arrangements. When doing so, they holistically evaluate a long list of statutorily prescribed factors. Some of the most important include:
1. Best Interest of the Child
Again, courts are primarily concerned with ensuring the child’s best interest when ordering and modifying custody arrangements. If you can’t demonstrate how a change in custody arrangements protects or promotes your child’s best interests, it will be difficult to secure a modification.
For instance, suppose you decide to move from Florida to another state or country to pursue an employment opportunity. The court reviewing your case must consider how the move will impact your child’s day-to-day life and well-being.
When making their decision, the judge will first examine your child’s present situation, including school, friends, extracurricular activities, and family relationships. Whether your job offers more money or a chance for you to advance your career will come second, especially if you cannot show how these things will also benefit your child.
2. Significant Change in Circumstances
Life doesn’t move on a linear trajectory, and a significant change in circumstances can warrant a custody arrangement modification. A job loss, severe illness, criminal conviction, or parental death are examples of situations that may warrant a change to a custody agreement.
2. Parental Agreement to a Child Custody Modification
If you and your ex-spouse can settle on the terms of a child custody modification, a court is more likely to grant the change. An uncontested child custody modification also helps you avoid the hassle and expense associated with arguing with your ex-spouse in court. Instead, you’ll both simply complete the necessary paperwork and wait for the court’s ruling on the matter.
Do You Need a Lawyer for Custody Modification?
Strictly speaking, no. Practically speaking, it is wise to consult with an attorney. In general, enlisting the help of an attorney can ensure that you know your legal rights, nothing is overlooked in your case, and potential problems down the road are avoided.
If your ex-spouse chooses to contest the custody modification, our attorneys can work on your behalf to prove the change is in the best interest of your child. And even if you and your ex-spouse agree on the terms of a custody modification, we can ensure you complete all the necessary paperwork and meet the filing requirements.
Rely on a Lakeland Child Custody Modification Attorney at the O’Mara Law Group
Modifying a child custody agreement in Florida is possible, but you must show that the change is justified. If the presiding judge does not believe a custody modification is in your child’s best interest, they will deny the request.
The experienced Lakeland child custody attorneys at the O’Mara Law Group are here to help you secure a child custody modification. Our team includes Mark M. O’Mara, Cathleen Winter, and Mark Rabinowitz. All three are well-recognized in the legal community for the high quality of their work and boast a deep knowledge of the law in Florida. Reach out to us today to schedule a consultation.
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