Most residents of St. Petersburg and elsewhere in Florida usually breathe a deep sigh of relief when the judge signs the final order ending a divorce proceeding. Unfortunately, life, as we know, is very uncertain, and even the entry of the final judgment and decree does not always mean the end of stress and anger. One of the major stressors after a divorce proceeding is over is an unexpected change in living circumstance that necessitates an amendment to a judicial order establishing the terms of child custody. Floridians who are faced with such a circumstance often wonder if the terms of the custody order can be changed. The happy news is “yes,” but certain requirements must be met.
The necessity of making a motion
Whatever the reason for the change, any amendment to a custody order must be first presented to the court in a motion to amend. If the divorced couple has agreed on the necessary changes, their agreement can be presented to the court as a stipulation. If the changes are reasonable, the court will most likely approve the changes without any alteration. If, however, the couple cannot agree on the terms of the amended order, a hearing on the motion will be required.
What happens at the hearing?
Both parties can present evidence that is relevant to the motion to change custody arrangements. The party who filed the motion is generally required to prove the existence of changed circumstances that require the amendment. The party opposing the motion need not present any evidence if the moving party’s arguments are weak. The court will consider the evidence and arguments advanced by each party and render a decision.
In ruling on a motion to change custody arrangements, the court will rely most heavily on how the change will affect the best interests of the child. Will the child be forced to change schools? What effect will the change have on the child’s relations with other children? Will each parent be able to have a relationship with the child if the change takes effect? Other factors may also affect the court’s decision.
Making informed decisions
Anyone who feels that the existing terms of a child custody order is unfair or disadvantageous to one or more of the couple’s children may wish to consult an experienced divorce attorney for advice. A knowledgeable lawyer can evaluate facts, suggest legal arguments are likely to persuade the judge and, most importantly draft the motion papers and represent the person at trial.