If you are a parent who is divorced, chances are you know about court orders. These orders usually cover arrangements for custody, visitation, and child support. It’s also quite likely that you were comfortable with these arrangements at the time of the divorce. But life is always changing. And occasionally, life changes may make a court order unreasonable. The good news is, this is not that unusual. And with an experienced family law attorney, there is something you can do about it. So here’s a quick look at modifying court orders in Texas.
What Does It Mean To Modify A Court Order?
Modifying court orders means making a legal change to the terms of your divorce decree. To do this, you and your family law attorney will need to file a petition. This document usually must be filed in the county where the order was originally made.
If your child is now living in a different county, you can ask the court to transfer the case to the new county. If your child has lived in another state for the last six months, it is more complicated. You may need an attorney to help you determine where to file the petition.
Court order modifications usually address three main areas: visitation, support, and custody. Let’s look at each of these separately.
Modifying A Court Child Visitation Order
The court may agree to change a visitation order in response to a significant change in circumstances. For example, if your new job requires working evenings or weekends, you may want to request a change in the visitation schedule.
On a more serious note, if your ex has been found guilty of child abuse, domestic violence, or other criminal activity, you may request a court modification to reduce his or her visitation rights. If the charges are serious enough, the court may agree to deny your ex any visitation rights.
Modifying A Child Support Order
Divorced parents request support order modifications for a variety of reasons. Reduced income is one common reason. If you have lost your job or suffered a significant pay cut, you can ask to reduce the amount of child support you pay. You can also make the request if you have had a significant health issue.
On the other hand, if your financial situation has significantly improved, your ex may file a petition to request higher payments. Of course, if your ex is the one with improved finances, you can request a modification.
Understanding Child Custody Orders
“Custody” is a term almost everyone is familiar with. But in our state, custody laws are a little complicated. This can make it hard when it comes to modifying court orders in Texas.
Legal custody means the parent has the right to be involved in making major life decisions for the child. Physical custody refers to who has possession of the child. If your children live with you most of the time, you are the primary conservator. And if your ex is allowed to visit the kids, he or she is the possessory conservator.
While all these terms can be confusing, it is important to have some understanding of them. If you want to modify your custody arrangement, a lawyer is going to ask about legal custody, possession, and access. Read our recent blog on Different Types of Child Custody in Texas.
Modifying Court Child Custody Orders
A court will modify a custody order if you can meet any of the following conditions:
- The primary conservator has relinquished care and possession of the child for at least six months. (This does NOT include military deployments.)
- The child is at least 12 years old and wants to change the primary conservator.
- There has been a material and substantial change in circumstances.
Examples of a material and substantial change in circumstances include:
- The parent has become unemployed or had a dramatic change in personal finances that affects his or her ability to care for the child.
- The parent has to relocate to another state for a job.
- The parent’s new relationship or marriage is having a negative impact on the child.
- The parent has been convicted of child abuse or neglect.
- The parent is abusing alcohol or drugs.
- The parent has developed a medical condition that limits his or her ability to care for the child.
A Key Factor in Modifying Court Orders in Texas
The most important thing to know about modifying court orders is that Texas courts do not make changes based on what works best for you. The Texas Family Code states that judges should make decisions based on the best interests of the child. Courts also understand that children’s needs and preferences change over time.
Thus, a judge probably will agree to modify custody orders if your ex is being neglectful, has a drinking problem, or is guilty of a crime. But the court is not likely to support your request if you just want to have your weekends free.
Also, be aware that is not wise to make false allegations against your ex. If a judge finds that the grounds for your motion are false or frivolous, you may be penalized.
Conditions For Modifying Court Orders
Generally, you must wait one year after the divorce or most recent court order before requesting a modification. If you want to file a petition sooner, you usually must show that the child’s physical health or emotional development is at risk.
Alternatively, the primary conservator must voluntarily agree to the modification. Read our recent blog on 50/50 Custody Arrangements in Texas.
Can the Court Modify an Informal Agreement?
It is not unusual for divorced parents to work out their own informal arrangements. However, if you are modifying court orders in Texas, these arrangements could be impacted.
Specifically, Texas courts are not required to honor or enforce any informal agreement. For example, perhaps your ex has routinely let the kids spend an extra night with you. The court is not obligated to enforce this agreememt.
Or perhaps you are paying less child support in exchange for giving your ex more time with the kids. The court can hold you liable for underpaying. This is true even if your ex is sympathetic to you. Remember: Judges make decisions based on the best interest of the child.
How Long Does it Take to Modify a Court Order?
The time needed for modifying court orders in Texas can vary. The key factor is whether both parents agree to the modification. If both parents are in agreement, the judge will review the change to confirm it is in the best interest of the child. In this case, the modification can occur fairly quickly.
However, if the parents are not in agreement, the process can take much longer. You probably will need to go before the judge, who will have the final say in the matter. If your ex is opposed to the modification, we highly recommend you hire an experienced family law attorney.
Fort Worth Attorneys Who Are Skilled in Modifying Court Orders in Texas
The Maynard Law Firm, PLLC, never stops working for you. We will fight to make sure that you receive the best possible arrangements while being sensitive to the concerns of your children. And if your divorce is already final, we can help you secure court modifications. For experienced, compassionate legal representation, contact us today at 817-335-9600.