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When will a court revisit and change a custody order?

When courts make a determination about which parent should be awarded custody over a child, it can be a difficult and complex decision. As discussed in last week's blog, the court is guided in its decision by looking at the best interests of the child.

Of course, as with other situations in life, circumstances can change over time .Child custody issues can also change over time for a variety of reasons, which can raise questions about whether a particular child custody arrangement should be continued or changed. Accordingly, Salt Lake City parents may wonder what factors a court considers after an initial custody arrangement has been agreed to or decided by a court.

Typically, when an agreement modification is before the court, the court must decide whether there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances since the initial custody order was entered. This phrase has legal significance, as it means a court may not revisit a custody decision unless there has been a substantial change of circumstances that has occurred since the initial order. In some cases, a certain time period also must have passed before a court will consider changing a custody order.

Accordingly, Salt Lake City parents who want a change of custody should understand what must be shown to the court in order for the court to reconsider the custody order. For instance, if the parents have remarried or moved to a new community, it could rise to the level of being a material and substantial change of circumstances. Likewise, substantial changes in the child's life can prompt a revisitation of the custody order. Minor changes, however, will not be enough for the court to reconsider the earlier order.

If a material and substantial change of circumstances exists, the court will then go back to the best interests of the child factors to make a custody determination. Once again, the change of circumstances can impact these factors, and therefore the court's analysis could differ from the initial custody order, resulting in a modification of custody.

Source: Utah Courts, "Modifying custody," accessed on Feb. 13, 2015

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Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law
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