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When can a court modify an existing child custody order?

As discussed recently in this blog, there is no shortage of disputes that can arise between Florida parents when it comes to visitation rights and custody decisions. Even a simple exchange of custody at school or another location can turn into a contentious dispute.

In some circumstances, issues can arise that warrant a change in the existing child custody order. However, child custody modification is only available if certain requirements are satisfied.

Under Florida law, a custody order cannot be modified unless there exists a substantial, material and unanticipated change in circumstances. This requirement applies to determinations involving parental responsibility, a parenting plan or a time-sharing schedule.

Typically, the party seeking the change in the existing order has to make a showing of changed circumstances. In other words, it is that party's burden of proof to demonstrate to the court that a change is warranted.

In addition to showing a change in circumstances, it also must be determined that the proposed modification to the existing order is in the best interests of the child. Accordingly, even if there has been some substantial change in circumstances, it still might not mean the existing order will be altered if the child's best interests are not satisfied.

As with other areas where the child's best interests are considered, there are a number of factors a court will examine. These factors include issues like the welfare and interests of the child, the child's needs and promoting a relationship between each parent and the child to the extent possible. If these factors are satisfied, the court can enter a new order that resolves the disputes at hand and protects the child's interests moving forward.

Source: Florida Legislature, "61.13 Support of children; parenting and time-sharing; powers of court," accessed on Sept. 10, 2016

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