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Modifying a Custody Agreement

Child custody agreements can be modified in specific circumstances. Sometimes those situations require changes to benefit the child.

Sometimes change is necessary to reach a greater goal.

In most custody cases, an effort is made to consider the child’s best interests above all else. Custody is granted based upon the ability of a parent to attend to the child’s physical, mental, and emotional needs. However, circumstances change, and a party that was struggling in the past may now be ready to take on a larger role.

The opposite situation could necessitate a change in custody: a once capable parent is struggling or engaging in dangerous activities.

Our Pittsburgh custody attorneys at Pittsburgh Divorce & Family Law, LLC understand that a custody order may need to be modified due to a change in circumstances. Call (412) 471-5100 now to see how attorney Anthony Piccirilli can protect your child’s best interests.

Can I Change a Child Custody Agreement in PA?

Under Pennsylvania custody law, you can change your custody agreement if it is no longer in the child’s best interests. There are two methods in which child custody can be modified: mutual agreement or court order.

Mutual Agreement

If you and your child’s other parent can agree on the details of your new custody agreement, then mutually updating your arrangement is a convenient and cost-effective option. But, of course, you may still consult a family law attorney.

A mutual modification generally results in less stress on everyone, including the child. That is why the court will almost always approve a mutual agreement. The agreement must be in writing and signed by both parents.

Modifying child custody requires careful attention to detail, such as:

  • Discuss plans for holidays, birthdays, and summer vacations in advance
  • Discuss plans for unexpected issues, like illness, business trips, and other unplanned but often inevitable events

There should be an equal amount of compromise as you and the other parent work toward an amicable, workable solution. This can be done when you both agree to set aside your differences in favor of what is in the best interests of your child.

After you have reached an agreement, you and your co-parent must both sign the document and submit it to the court that presided over your original custody arrangement.

Court Order

If you and your child’s other parent cannot agree to a voluntary modification, you may petition the court for a modification. You can either try and handle this process alone or turn to a Pittsburgh divorce lawyer for help.

There are a few steps in seeking a court order:

  • You must use the proper form in the same court of jurisdiction as your original custody agreement
  • You must attach a written list of proposed modifications
  • You must show how these modifications are best for your child’s health and welfare

It’s best to ask a legal professional for help if you are petitioning the court. Your attorney can make sure you don’t leave anything out.

Best Interests Standard

Pennsylvania law observes the best interests standard when evaluating child custody arrangements. This means that the court tries to arrive at a custody schedule that best suits your child’s needs. If your requested changes do not meet this standard in the court’s opinion, your request will probably be denied.

Generally, the law requires substantial changes in the child’s home situation to alter custody, so it’s essential to be as specific as possible.

Reasons for Modifying Custody

Custody orders are created with careful consideration. For this reason, the courts do not modify agreements frequently. Changing a court-ordered custody arrangement can only be done by proving that a dramatic turn of events might impact the child’s welfare. This change is referred to by the courts as a “material change in circumstances.” It is the first element that must be proven by a parent wishing to alter a custody order.

Once the change has been proven, the parent must present evidence explaining why the custody order should be altered. Examples of a material change in circumstance include, but are not limited to:

  • The other parent is living with an abusive boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Child services have
  • been contacted about the child’s living conditions
  • One of the parents is abusing drugs or alcohol
  • A previously unreliable parent has eliminated the negative elements – become sober, broke up with an abusive partner – and now wants to take a more active role in your child’s life

Burden of Proof in Child Custody Cases

In cases involving a change in custody, the burden of proof lies with the party that filed the petition. If that party cannot display that there has been a material change in circumstance, they may be forced to pay the other party’s legal fees as punishment.

Do I Have to Attend a Child Custody Hearing?

You may be required to attend a hearing after you request a change to your custody arrangement. This is unlikely if you and your co-parent mutually agree on the alteration. However, if you petitioned for the modification, the judge may have questions for you.

It is your right to have an attorney represent you at a child custody hearing and throughout your divorce or custody process. An attorney can support your requested changes by presenting evidence, documentation, and testimony. In addition, you must show the court that your desire to modify a child custody arrangement is in the best interests of your child.

Call Pittsburgh Divorce & Family Law

Whatever your reason for wanting to alter your child custody arrangement – if you believe the other parent is endangering your child or if you want changes based upon your own personal and professional schedule – it is best to call a custody lawyer.

At Pittsburgh Divorce & Family Law, LLC, we realize that modifying a custody arrangement can be stressful. So we take care of the details, meet all deadlines, and help you achieve the desired outcome.

Call (412) 471-5100 for a free consultation about your child custody case.