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Child custody modification: Things you should know

As in all matters of divorce in Pennsylvania or elsewhere, a key to accomplishing your goals is to be as well-informed as possible before heading to court. The more you know about your parental rights, for instance, and how to protect them, the less likely it is that you will encounter a legal obstacle you can't resolve. Child custody issues can be difficult to handle on your own; however, if you know where to seek additional support as needed, you can improve your ability to protect your interests.

When you and your ex signed a co-parenting agreement and the judge overseeing your case issued a court order, you and your co-parent became legally obligated to adhere to its terms. However, issues can sometimes arise that make it reasonable to request the court's permission to implement a new plan.

Evidence of need

It's one thing to want to modify a child custody order because of convenience (wanting to go to the gym on drop-off days instead of meeting the ex to transfer custody) and another to be unable to meet at a particular time because an employer has changed a job schedule. The following list includes examples of legitimate reasons to request modification of a court order:

  • There is evidence that a child is at risk in the presence of a parent due to neglect, abuse or other issues
  • You or your ex need to relocate
  • A parent is not adhering to the existing court order
  • A parent dies or becomes incapacitated

It's not enough to request modification by filing a petition in court. Whichever parent is making the request must be able to provide evidence to the court that the request is legitimate and is based on a specific need.

Your actions depend on which side you're on

Whether you're the parent making the request for child custody modification or your ex is making a request to which you are opposed, the court will review your case and hand down a ruling that keeps the best interests of your children in mind.

Unless and until the court grants modification, you and your ex must still adhere to the terms of the existing court order, even if you both agree to the suggested changes. If you're unsure what your rights are or what to do in a particular situation, it's always best to discuss the issue with someone well-versed in Pennsylvania child custody law to avoid being charged with contempt of court.

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