An action for modification of child custody is when one party files an appropriate action with the court seeking to have the living arrangements of the child (or children) changed from that established in an existing Order of the court or written agreement between the parties. Disputes over child custody are almost always emotionally charged and can lead to bitter and lengthy litigation. Under North Carolina law, child custody is always subject to modification by a court having jurisdiction over the child, regardless of whether the parties have a child custody agreement or an existing court order establishing custody.
Child custody that is determined by the court may be in the form of a temporary custody order or a permanent custody order. The criteria for modification of a permanent custody order requires that the moving party must show that there has been a substantial change of circumstances affecting the welfare of the child and that the modification is in the best interest of the child. Modification of a temporary custody order requires only a showing that the change in custody is in the best interest of the child.
The party petitioning the court for a modification of a permanent custody order has the burden of proving that a substantial change of circumstances affecting the welfare of the child has occurred. Relocation, remarriage, and changes in employment are examples of situations that may create a change in circumstance, but there must be sufficient evidence presented showing how those changes (for better or worse) affect the welfare of the child. Most judges are reluctant to disrupt a child’s life without a good reason.
The trial court has considerable discretion in weighing various factors that may constitute a substantial change of circumstances that affect the welfare of the child, and determining what is in the best interest of the child. Consequently, court rulings regarding child custody are highly unpredictable. Regardless of whether you are the party moving to modify custody, or the party defending an existing custody arrangement, you will benefit from having an experienced and competent family law attorney representing you throughout the modification process.
This article is for information purposes only and is not to be considered or substituted as legal advice. The information in this article is based on North Carolina state laws in effect at the time of posting.