Often, in a divorce, issues of child support and child custody can be difficult and even contentious. Resolving issues of which parent receives legal and/or physical custody of the children can be complicated enough to figure out at the time of your divorce – but what if, sometime down the road, circumstances change?
There are a variety of reasons you may need to modify your child custody plan. One of the reasons that an existing child custody order can be revisited, and quite possibly modified, is due to one parent’s desire to relocate. Moving is ubiquitous in today’s society. People between the ages of 20 to 34, the age group most likely to have young children, are more prone to moving than older Americans. Moreover, relocating with children following a divorce is becoming more common.
Here in North Carolina, the court will allow you and your co-parent to modify the terms of your child custody agreement if you meet two requirements – circumstances warrant it and the custody modification is in the best interest of the child.
How does the court determine custody modification?
If you or your ex-spouse want to modify your child custody agreement, the court must first determine whether there is an eligible change in circumstances. Typically this is known as a “material change” and the court will establish the impact the modification may have on the child. If your child is currently doing well in their environment – with positive social, emotional and academic behavior – chances are the court won’t modify your custody agreement, as judges prioritize the well-being of the child above all other issues.
However, if your child is no longer thriving in their current environment – perhaps displaying negative behaviors or slipping grades – the court may consider this a material change and grant a hearing for a new custody proceeding.
How does a judge decide the best interests of a child?
There are no explicit calculations when it comes to how the courts determine the best interests of a child. Judges may use their own discretion, but also take a variety of factors into account, including:
- Each parents’ relationship with the child
- Domestic abuse on the part of either parent
- Drug or alcohol abuse by either parent
- The child’s developmental and emotional needs
- The parents’ health and general well-being
- The parents’ homes and environments
Do a child’s wishes factor into “best interests of the child?”
The courts will give consideration to the child’s wishes as part of their determination as to the best interests of the child during a custody modification hearing – if the child is able to give an informed and well-reasoned explanation for their preference. However, if the court finds that the child is merely temporarily dissatisfied with their situation, or is being manipulated by one of their parents, the child’s testimony will most likely carry little weight.
Regardless of whether you are considering having a child custody order modified, or your former spouse is seeking a modification, the divorce and family law attorneys at Epperson Law Group, PLLC can help. Our experience in handling modifications can help you defend your rights and protect the best interests of your child. To set up a consultation, please call 704-859-2287 or fill out our contact form. We serve clients in Charlotte, Weddington, Boone, and throughout North Carolina.