In order to seek a modification of an existing order of custody, the party seeking the modification bears the burden of proving a substantial change in circumstances, indicating a real need to modify an order to further the best interests and welfare of the child. This is a stringent standard and the court will not freely entertain petitions for modifications. This, as compared to an initial custody determination, a petitioner in this case faces a preliminary burden of showing the requisite change in circumstances, before the best interest of the child issue can be addressed.
Some of the factors the court will consider in determining whether there is a substantial change in circumstances are:
- A custodial parent's deliberate interference with or frustration of the noncustodial parents rights (i.e. failure to abide by the terms of the existing custodial agreement);
- Attempts by one parent to alienate the child from the other parent in any way;
- Any new finding of abuse of neglect by the custodial parent, which may not have been brought to the court's attention originally;
- Exposure of the children to domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, or other inappropriate behavior;
- A custodial parent's failure to address the educational, emotional, psychological, and physical needs of a child in a proper manner;
- A change in the custodial parent's physical or mental health;
- Breakdown of the custodial parent/child relationship;
- Remarriage of either parent;
- Change in the employment status or work schedule of either parent; or
- Relocation of custodial parent. (i.e. the impact on the relationship between the noncustodial parent and child as a result of the relocation)
Only after the court finds there has been a substantial change in circumstances, will the court consider a modification of the custody order in the best interests of the child.