7 Reasons A Judge Will Change Custody

When parents divorce or separate in Minnesota, the court issues a child custody order specifying how physical and legal custody of the children will be shared between the parents. Physical custody refers to where the children live, while legal custody is about decision-making rights.

Custody orders are meant to provide stability for children. However, there are situations where a judge will modify an existing custody arrangement if it is found to be in the best interests of the child.

If you believe your current Minnesota child custody order should be changed, consult with an experienced Minnesota family law attorney. They can advise if you have valid grounds for a custody modification and can help present a compelling case to the judge.

What Constitutes Grounds for Modification of Child Custody?

For a judge to reconsider an existing custody order, the parent seeking modification must first demonstrate a significant change in circumstances since the original order was put in place. Examples of changes that may warrant modification include:

  • One parent intends to relocate a substantial distance, affecting access to the child
  • A parent develops a substance abuse problem or other issues affecting their ability to care for the child
  • The child has special medical or educational needs that one parent is better equipped to handle
  • One parent is alienating the child from the other parent
  • There is conflict between parents that rises to the level of domestic violence
  • A teenager requests to live primarily with one parent

The change in circumstances must be significant enough to impact the child’s well-being or best interests. Minor changes or inconveniences are typically not sufficient grounds for custody modification.

Judges will also consider whether the proposed custody changes are in the child’s best interests. Factors like stability, relationships with each parent, and the child’s needs are weighed when determining if modification serves the child.

7 Common Reasons a Judge Will Change Child Custody

While every case is different, here are 7 common reasons a Minnesota judge may decide to change an existing child custody order:

1. Both Parents Agree to Modify Custody

Parents can negotiate changes to custody agreements between themselves without involving the court. If both parents jointly decide the current custody arrangement should be altered and petition the Minnesota court together, the judge will generally grant their request for a modification, barring any issues.

So if you and your co-parent mutually agree your child custody order needs to change, whether due to schedules, the child’s needs, or other reasons, the court will likely approve if you present a united front.

2. Failure to Follow the Current Custody Order

Custody orders are legally binding. If one parent repeatedly violates the terms of the current custody arrangement, this could justify a change. For instance, if the custodial parent constantly refuses to turn over the child at the scheduled time, the judge may modify custody and grant more time to the other parent.

Documenting all violations is crucial. Work with an experienced Minnesota family law attorney to present evidence of contempt of court and request a custody modification that is in your child’s best interests. The court aims to enforce compliance with custody orders.

3. Relocation of a Parent

If the custodial or non-custodial parent needs to relocate, it can often make complying with the original Minnesota child custody order impractical or impossible.

When this happens, the court looks at what new custody arrangement makes the most sense given the move. The judge may allow the custodial parent to move with the child but increase parenting time for the other parent during school breaks. Or, if the non-custodial parent is moving, the court may order less frequent but more extended visits.

There are no guarantees a parent will be allowed to move a child far away if it substantially impacts the existing custody agreement. An experienced divorce lawyer can help parents negotiate fair custody changes to accommodate relocation.

4. Changes in the Child’s Needs

As children grow older, their needs change. The custody schedule that worked for a baby may not still be appropriate for an elementary schooler or teenager. If you can demonstrate that the child’s needs have substantially changed and a custody modification would serve them better, the judge may alter the existing arrangement.

For example, if a child develops behavioral or learning difficulties that one parent is better equipped to handle, this could justify changing primary custody or the parenting schedule. The parent seeking modification must prove the child’s needs changed significantly since the original order.

5. A Parent’s Circumstances Have Changed

Major positive or negative changes in a parent’s life may also provide grounds for child custody modification. For instance, if a parent struggled with substance abuse issues during the original custody case but is now sober, stable and capable of providing more care, they may gain additional parenting time. Or if a parent is convicted of a crime or develops mental health issues that endanger the child, custody may be reduced.

The change in circumstances must be substantial, not temporary, to warrant a custody change. The parent seeking the modification must show how the change affects the child’s welfare and why the modification is in the child’s best interest.

6. Risk of Harm or Abuse

If the child is at risk of physical, emotional, or psychological harm in their current custody situation, the court may take emergency action to protect the child by modifying custody right away. Abuse, neglect, unstable mental health issues, or drug use by a parent could justify an immediate change to protect the child’s safety.

In urgent situations of potential danger or abuse, contact the police immediately. Work with an experienced family law attorney to file an emergency motion for custody modification. The court will act quickly to ensure the child is placed in a safe environment if abuse or neglect is occurring.

7. The Child’s Preferences

Minnesota family law judges give serious consideration to the custody preferences of older children. While judges won’t allow tweens or teens to dictate custody, they try to accommodate reasonable requests.

For example, if a teen in Minnesota finds the current joint physical custody schedule disruptive because they are constantly moving between households, a judge may reduce transitions while still ensuring substantial parenting time for both parents.

How to Change Your Child Custody Order

If you have valid grounds for changing child custody in Minnesota, here is the general process:

  • Consult with a family law attorney – A knowledgeable lawyer can review your situation and advise if circumstances warrant a custody modification. They can also represent you in negotiations and court proceedings.
  • Attempt to settle out of court – Your attorney can initiate talks with the other parent to see if an agreement can be reached to alter the custody arrangement without extended litigation. Courts prefer agreed resolutions.
  • File a motion to modify custody – If you cannot agree, your lawyer will petition the Minnesota family court to modify the existing child custody order and schedule a hearing.
  • Prove substantial change in circumstances – You must convince the judge there has been a major permanent change impacting the child’s well-being since the original custody order was issued.
  • Present your case – At the Minnesota custody modification hearing, you and your lawyer will provide evidence and testimony to prove your preferred new arrangement is in the child’s best interests.
  • Court decision – The judge will decide whether to grant your motion to change custody in Minnesota based on the evidence and legal standards for modifying child custody.

Proving that a custody modification is warranted and in the child’s interests can be complex. Working with an experienced family law attorney maximizes your chances of success.

When Do Judges Order Emergency Changes to Custody?

In certain circumstances where the child is at immediate risk of harm in their current custodial home, the other parent can file an emergency petition in family court seeking an emergency change of custody.

This may happen if:

  • The custodial parent is arrested on serious criminal charges
  • The custodial home is physically unsafe due to violence, drug use, lack of utilities, etc.
  • The child is being severely neglected by not being properly fed, clothed, sent to school, given medical treatment, etc.

If the judge agrees the child is in imminent danger in their present home, an emergency custody modification may be ordered immediately placing the child with the other parent pending a full hearing.

Can a Minnesota Judge Change Custody Without My Consent?

Yes, a Minnesota family court judge can modify child custody without the consent of one or both parents if circumstances warrant. Usually, this happens only after a contested custody modification hearing where the parent seeking the change proves it is in the child’s best interests.

However, as mentioned above, in emergency situations where a child is at risk, a judge can temporarily order an immediate change in custody until a full hearing takes place.

Custody can also be changed without parental consent if both parents are deemed unfit and the judge grants custody to a third party such as a relative or child protective services.

Finding an Experienced Minnesota Child Custody Attorney

If you need experienced legal counsel to help modify your Minnesota child custody order, contact the knowledgeable family law attorneys at Martine Law.  With offices across the Twin Cities metro and greater Minnesota, our lawyers have helped many local parents change child custody orders when situations warranted modifications.

Contact us to schedule a consultation with a child custody attorney at one of their convenient MN offices.

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