When can I modify my child custody and parenting arrangements?

A lot of things can change in your life over time, including the needs of your children. If your kids were little when you got divorced, things may look quite different when they reach their teens. You may be wondering whether there's a way to modify your child custody and parenting arrangements to account for their changing needs.

There is. If your existing child custody and parenting order are from a Maryland court and all of the parties still live in Maryland, one option is to file a petition for modification with that same court. However, be aware that the court isn't interested in fixing anything that isn't broken, so you will need to have a very good reason. You will need to demonstrate to the court that:

  • There has been a substantial change in circumstances since the original child custody and parenting order was issued, and
  • The proposed change custody or parenting arrangements is actively in the children's best interest. Since kids are typically best-served by stable living arrangements, it's not enough for the proposed change to merely be desirable -- it has to result in arrangements that are better for the children.

If the reason you want to make the change is because you want to move out of state and take the kids with you, the rules are slightly different.

Negotiation, mediation or another out-of-court resolution is another option for modifying a Maryland family court order. If you can come to an agreement outside of court, you can ask the court to approve it and incorporate it into your existing divorce decree or parenting order. The chances are better that the court will approve modifications when they aren't opposed by the other party.

One final note: Things get more complicated if one parent now lives in another state. When a custodial parent moves to another state, there has often been confusion about whether child custody issues should be handled by the courts of the new state or the original state. To end that confusion, Maryland and other states have adopted a law called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, or UCCJEA. Generally, the UCCJEA means that child custody cases will continue to be handled by the original state if one parent still lives there, but there are exceptions. You should discuss your specific situation with an attorney.