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Can child custody agreements be changed?

For divorcing parents, one of the most nerve-wracking and potentially contentious aspects of a divorce revolves around child custody decisions. Once the terms of a child custody agreement are decided, for a child's sake and to provide continuity, it's important that changes are avoided. There are, however, circumstances when modifications to an existing child custody arrangement may be necessary or warranted.

For example, a parent's job or schedule change may necessitate changes related to when each parent has custody of a child. Additionally, there may be cases where one parent petitions the court for a modification for reasons related to a belief that a child's best interests are not being met.

In cases where parents don't necessarily agree that custody changes are necessary, the parent seeking the change must file a Complaint for Motion with the family court. A judge will then take several factors into consideration when deciding whether or not to make adjustments to an existing custody order.

With any custody decision, a child's overall wellbeing is paramount. In many cases, however, divorced parents have very different views about what is truly in a child's best interests. A judge will look at how a child is doing in school and socially as well as what his or her relationship is like with both parents. Additionally, in cases where a petitioning parent is concerned about a child's safety or welfare due to a parent's alleged drug or alcohol use or mental state, a judge may take action to determine what extent, if any, this should influence a custody change.

Matters related to child custody are highly emotional and even the most well-intentioned parent can end up saying or doing things that he or she will regret and that may irreparably damage the relationship between co-parents. It's wise, therefore, to enlist the help of a family law attorney who can provide advice and assistance through what is often a difficult process.

Source: Massachusetts Court System, "Changing Your Child Custody or Parenting Time," Dec. 8, 2015

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