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Can I Change a Child Custody Agreement?

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Ask any parent and you’ll hear just how important their child is to them. That goes a long way toward explaining why child custody cases are some of the hardest fought and most emotional of any in the family court system. 

However, one thing that parents need to realize is that a child custody agreement isn’t set in stone. It takes a court order to change a custody agreement, but it’s possible and happens more often than you might realize.

When My Situation Changes, Can I Change Our Custody Agreement?

If you’re worried that a custody agreement is locked in until the kids are 18, you shouldn’t be. The New Jersey family court system understands that circumstances change, and a family’s situation most likely won’t stay constant for years. 

If you need to change your custody agreement, the first step is to talk to your ex to see if you can work out an amicable change. If that happens, you still need to file the change with the courts to make it official and binding. But this is a simple process. 

If, however, your ex doesn’t agree to modify the agreement, you’ll need to file a modification petition with the court. This means you’ll have to go back to court and re-adjudicate the custody with a judge having the final say in the decision. 

Because you’ll have to go back to court, you’ll need an experienced New Jersey family law attorney with a background in custody issues. That attorney will be able to help you in the process which can include gathering evidence, filing the petition, and presenting your case in court. We always advise people who we represent in a divorce to plan to have your family law attorney in your court for post-divorce matters like child custody, child support, and alimony. That way, when an issue arises, you know you have a legal advocate you can trust.

When the Custodial Parent Dies, What Happens?

One major change that can impact child custody is if something happens to the custodial parent causing him or her to pass away. In New Jersey, a child whose custodial parent dies will usually go to live with their other biological parent. This, however, may not happen if the non-custodial parent can’t care for the child for any number of reasons.

Although this is the norm in most cases, someone else in the child’s life can attempt to gain custody of the child at this point. This may be a stepparent or grandparent who feels that the child would be better off living with them and not the biological parent. 

In such cases, the court will use the decision in Watkins v. Nelson (163 NJ 235) to guide the resolution. Because a biological parent has privacy rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, they’re presumed to have custody unless the other party can show just cause why they shouldn’t. This would involve proving that the biological parent is unfit because of “gross misconduct” or neglect. Once again, the court will have to rule on this to make a determination for custody.

What Happens When My Ex Wants to Move Out of State?

Another major life change that can cause a change in custody is if one of the parents moves out of state. There can be any number of reasons why they might choose to move, but the bottom line is that they can’t just arbitrarily make this decision without first seeking permission.

If your ex has custody and plans to move out of state, they must first talk with you about this. If you’re OK with the move, then the custody agreement just needs to be adjusted and then filed with the court with the update. If you don’t agree, however, you must go to court and allow a judge to make a determination about what is in the best interest of the child. 

What Happens When My Ex Does Something I Don’t Agree or Approve Of?

The court basically recognizes that a custodial parent has the right to make decisions about the child when they’re with that parent. So, for instance, a parent can determine things like bedtime and diet while the child is with them as long as those decisions aren’t detrimental to the child. Even if you don’t agree with these decisions, you can’t do anything about them unless the child is in danger because of these choices.

However, if the choices are putting the child at risk, you should speak with a New Jersey family attorney who specializes in custody cases. These decisions might include using drugs while in the home with the child or allowing someone into the house who poses a threat to the child’s well-being. In these cases, you can go back to court for a change in the custody agreement.

What If My Ex Refuses to Bring Over the Kids or Is Late?

You can get a modification to a child custody agreement if your ex isn’t living up to their end of the current custody plan. For instance, if your ex is late picking up or returning the children during their custodial time, then you should speak with them about this and remind them of the agreement. 

But if the problem persists and becomes a consistent issue, you’ll need to go to court to address the problem. The custody agreement may be modified, or the other parent may be penalized for their actions. This is a good moment to consult with your attorney to determine your next steps.

A judge can, for instance, order extra time to the parent who has lost time and can also modify the transportation arrangements for pick up and drop off. In some cases, they can also completely change the primary residential parent, switching custody to the other parent. The court can also order the other parent to pay court costs/fees, as well as require them to attend parenting classes or counseling.

Make Changes to Custody That Works Best for Your Child

Life can change pretty quickly. And when it does, you don’t have to worry about being stuck in a custody agreement that doesn’t change with it. In certain cases, it’s possible to modify a custody agreement so that your child’s best interests are maintained. But to do that, you’ll need a competent New Jersey family attorney who can guide you through the process.

Contact the Knowledgeable Family Law Attorneys at Smedley Law Group in Marlton, NJ Today

If you’re thinking about filing for divorce, you’ll also most likely be dealing with another matter like child custody, child support, or division of assets, so you’ll need to speak with a qualified attorney. The New Jersey family law attorneys at Smedley Law Group represent clients throughout the state, including West Deptford, Cherry Hill, Moorestown, and Medford. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, which is why we will fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at (856) 251-0800 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 750 Cooper Street, Woodbury, NJ 08096.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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