I recently had a custody hearing and the judge sided with the mom, citing my busy work travel schedule. Since then, I lost my job due to downsizing. Because I don’t travel for my old job anymore, I have extra time I can spend with my son. Can I ask the judge to modify custody, and if so, do I need to wait for any specific period of time before I ask?
– Downsized Dad
North Carolina allows the court to modify child custody orders any time when it determines there has been a substantial change of circumstances and it is in the best interest of the child. Either parent can file a motion to modify child custody at any time as long as the child is under the age of 18.
So, what is a substantial change of circumstances? As with most matters in family law, that will vary from one case to another. Courts can consider both positive and negative changes, which may affect the children, such as; the relocation of a parent, domestic violence, substance abuse, and – as with your situation – changes in work schedules. In your case, if you are no longer required to travel, that means you have more time you can spend with your son. This could be a strong argument to take before the judge.
The requested change must also be in the child’s best interests. Because children benefit from having both parents provide support and nurturing in their lives, your request to spend more time with your son would likely pass this test.
A parent can file a motion with the court any time there has been a substantial change in circumstances, even if the change happened a day or two after the court hearing. The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently addressed this issue. A father received an adverse custody ruling, then experienced a substantial change in circumstances shortly thereafter. But the court was severely delayed in issuing its initial order (which often happens). About three months after the initial hearing – but only a short time after the written order was entered – the father asked for a modification. The trial court dismissed his motion and said it came too soon.
The Court of Appeals reversed. A parent is not obligated to wait for a written order before he or she can ask for a modification, as long as there has been a substantial change of circumstances. If you have already experienced a change in your circumstances, file now! But speak with an experienced North Carolina family law attorney to make sure it’s done correctly and to ensure the best outcome for you and your son.
No custody order is written in stone. The sooner you act in response to changed circumstances, the quicker your custody situation can adjust to your life.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is general in nature and not to be taken as legal advice, nor to establish an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Jennifer Fleet or Weaver | Budd, Attorneys at Law. Submit your questions for The Fine Print to: firstname.lastname@example.org