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How can I get a child custody modification?

When a couple with children decides to divorce, one of the foremost questions in their minds often relates to who will get legal or physical custody of the children or what kind of parenting time arrangements will be made. It is important for both spouses to be fully involved in this process from the outset because the ultimate child custody decisions made by the court are difficult to change at a later date. However, in some situations a child custody modification is possible, but a parent wishing to change the custody arrangement will have to follow certain procedures in order to achieve the change.

The specific procedures involved in modifying child custody arrangements depend on whether both parents agree to the modification or not. If both parents agree to the modification, the process will likely be much simpler and the parent originally wanting the change will have the greatest chance of success. When both parents agree to the modification, they must file an "Agreement to Modify the Prior Court Order Regarding Custody, Parenting Time and Support." The parents must also file an "Order Modifying Custody, Parenting time and Child Support," as well as complete other necessary documents related to child support and parenting time. The original documents and forms must be filed with the clerk of court in a county where the children, or one of the parents, live. Copies of all documents must also be given to the judge and the other party, with a third copy reserved for the party filing the paperwork.

In the case where the parties disagree as to the need for child custody modification, the parent seeking a change must file a petition to modify legal parenting time and decision making (custody). It is important to understand that a parent cannot seek a modification of a custody arrangement simply because he or she wants it. The parent seeking the change must support the petition with evidence that one of four circumstances has occurred since the initial custody determination was made.

These potential grounds for the change include that domestic violence or spousal or child abuse has occurred; the present surroundings of the child pose a risk to the child's mental, physical, or emotional health; the original custody is more than six months old and the other parent has not complied; or the original order is more than one year old and the modification is in the child's best interest.

Source: The Judicial Branch of Arizona, "Change (Modify) A Court Order for Custody And Parenting Time (And Support)," accessed on Nov. 29, 2014

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