Can I Change a Child Custody Agreement?
When a child custody case is resolved, the court issues what is known as a permanent custody order. However, despite the word “permanent,” custody orders can be changed later if there’s a reason to do so.
When parents separate or divorce, you may get an initial child custody order (also known as Allocation of Parental Responsibilities order) that outlines the custody arrangement. However, if circumstances change, the court can modify the order at any point until the child turns 18.
We’ve put together a list of possible situations that could lead to a change in your child custody agreement, along with information about how to proceed.
Here’s what you need to know.
Facts on Allocation of Parental Responsibilities
There are three basic types of child allocation of parental responsibilities in Illinois — joint allocation of parental responsibilities, sole allocation of parental responsibilities and shared allocation of parental responsibilities:
Joint allocation of parental responsibilities requires parents to cooperate in decision-making regarding education, health care and religious instruction. It does not mean that the children live with each parent for an equal amount of time. The parties will agree or the court will assign a residential parent. The non-residential parent will pay child support and exercise parenting time. The amount of time the children spends with the non-residential parent is addressed in a parenting time agreement or order.
Sole allocation of parental responsibilities is the term that describes the arrangement that gives one parent the responsibility for deciding everything related to the child’s welfare. It does not mean that the other parent is out of the picture. Parenting Time and parenting time can be the same in a sole allocation of parental responsibilities case as it is in a joint allocation of parental responsibilities case.
Shared allocation of parental responsibilities is a form of joint allocation of parental responsibilities. It is appropriate when the child spends equal time with each parent, the parents reside in the same school district and are able to joint parent.
Why Would a Parent Need to Modify a Custody Order?
A parent may want to obtain a change in custody or visitation if substantial changes in the other parent’s lifestyle threatens to harm the child. Examples might include if one parent starts to abuse drugs or alcohol, or leaves a young child home alone. If one parent becomes incarcerated or incapacitated in some way which leaves them unable to care for the children might be another reason for a modification.
The Two Year Rule
The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage act clearly states that these parental responsibility plans may not be modified for two years following their entry in court. However, there are two exceptions to this rule.
The first exception is if the courts determine that there is a factor present that could seriously endanger the wellbeing of the child, either physically, mentally or emotionally. This also applies to visitation plans that address grandparents, step parents and siblings. The second exception is if the parents file a joint stipulation waiving the two-year moratorium.
If you are seeking to change your existing parenting plan, it’s best to consult with an attorney as soon as possible. Your case might fall under one of these exceptions and you’ll want to prepare accordingly.
Making Modifications at Any Time
You can change your custody agreement at any time, as long as both parties agree to the modification. The court will still have to approve these changes to ensure that the child’s interests are still served.
The law specifies several other conditions that could lead to change at any time. Here are the following rules:
- If there is an environment that is seriously harmful to the child.
- If a parent either lives with or marries a sex offender.
- If the child’s emotional development is seriously impaired due to current arrangements.
In order to make changes, a parent will have to file a petition. From there the court will make the decision on if the petition is approved or not.
Other Changes and Circumstances
If you are a parent with child custody, you know that it can be a difficult arrangement. However, the Illinois Courts point out that the parties involved in these arrangements have a continuing duty to provide information that could affect a pending arrangement.
A court may also take into account any substantial changes that have occurred since the agreement was entered and approved. In order to have a modification approved, it will be necessary to prove that the substantial change has affected the child’s best interests.
Some of those changes and circumstances can be the following:
- Changes in work schedules for both parents
- Children starting school
- Misbehavior of either parent i.g. Criminal charges or inappropriate significant other
If you think that there has been a change in circumstances since your original agreement was approved, it is important to talk with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. As long as you can prove that there has been an impact on your child’s best interests, then you could be able to get your custody agreement modified quickly.
Fortunately, Illinois law gives parents a number of options for changing custody orders. While this is a good thing, making modifications can quickly get messy and turn into complex issues. It’s always important to consult with your family law attorney before making any decisions.
At Masters Law Group, it’s our duty to ensure any modifications made to your child custody agreement are done in a proper and swift manner. If you’re currently navigating child custody or considering your legal options, schedule a consultation with us today to learn how we can help.