A custody agreement readily agreed upon by both parties can initially seem suitable but later seem obviously unworkable. Over time, people and circumstances change. That change can necessitate a modification of custody.
Examples of change can include;
- One parent wants to move out of state with the children;
- One of the parents starts using drugs or becomes incarcerated;
- One of the parents who was previously less stable has become more stable; or
- One of the parents becomes ill.
No matter the change, it is important that the parents try to work together adopt a change in the parenting plan to find a solution that is in the best interest of the children. Parents can make custodial changes without drawing up a new agreement. Or they can make changes formal by submitting an agreement to the Court.
If the parents can make it through the process without legal representation, they will save a lot of time, money, and emotional tax. One available resource in Arizona is Court Mediation (ARS § 12-2238(F)).
If working with the other parent is not something that can be done a consultation with a reputable attorney in town is in order to decide what course of action is in the best interest of the children. A good attorney will tell their client whether or not the desired change is one that would likely be supported by the Judge.
Courts hesitate to make custodial changes because doing so can be disruptive to the children. Judges will consider the following circumstances and others before deciding what to do:
- The safety and health of the children;
- The stability and support that can be provided by each parent;
- The ability of each parent to communicate with the other parent when making best interest decisions for the children; and
- The ability of each parent to foster a healthy relationship between the child and the other parent.
Sometimes a parent feels intimidated by the prospect of facing the Court process or is concerned that if they bring up a desired custody change, the other parent will retaliate. There are many reasons to use caution when considering changes for children, but fear of the process or the other parent should never stop a parent from doing the right thing.
Where the emotional or physical safety of the children is at stake, immediate action is required. Failure to do so can result in the Department of Children Services (DCS) taking the children, issuance of criminal charges, or emotional alienation of a child. The children’s interests must always come first and motivate a parent to take action.
If your believe a change should be made to your current custody agreement, you must find the courage to follow through to obtain that change for your children. Try it on your own, or consult a lawyer. But don’t wait for the issue to fix itself where your children’s best interest is at stake.