Child custody cases are some of the most common issues resolved in the St. Louis, MO, family court system. While some child custody determinations are components of broader divorce cases, others are single-issue legal disputes between unmarried parents who need legally enforceable custody orders. Whatever your custody order entails, it’s not only vital to abide by the terms of the order but also to know how you can have the order changed should the need arise.

Family law is unique in that it is not necessary to file an appeal if you need to change your custody order. The family court system in Missouri recognizes that life can present unexpected problems that affect a parent’s ability to abide by their custody order’s terms. Some parents may be unable to manage their custody responsibility due to these issues, and others may seek expanded custody rights in light of recent events. Whatever your situation may entail, it is essential to understand how the modification process works and what you can expect.

What Is Modification?

Modification is changing the terms of a standing family court order. When an unexpected issue arises that significantly affects the terms of a family court order, the parties affected by the issue have the right to request reasonable and necessary changes to reflect recent events. The modification process is relatively simple and often does not require much time to complete. If your petition is filed correctly with all necessary supporting information, and the judge handling the issue deems your request reasonable and necessary, it’s possible to have the changes you need implemented much more quickly than you may have originally anticipated.

The party requesting the modification starts the process by filing a petition with the St. Louis family court. They must provide a detailed description of the change or changes sought in the order and a concise explanation of their reason for filing the modification petition. Some of the most commonly cited reasons for custody order modification petitions in St. Louis include:

  • Disability. If a parent has custody of their child and develops a disability, suffers a catastrophic injury, or develops a medical condition that interferes with their ability to handle their child’s needs, they may request a change that reflects these issues and alters the terms of the custody agreement, granting the other parent expanded custody rights.
  • Changes in the child’s needs. Custody orders typically contain child support terms, and judges determine child support based on various factors such as the child’s unique needs. For example, if a child suddenly develops a medical issue or another problem arises that affects the custodial parent’s support needs, they can request a change to the support order that reflects their child’s changed circumstances.
  • Relocation. If a parent with a custody order wants to move, they must notify the court and their child’s other parent. Depending on the nature of the custody order and the relocating parent’s custody rights, their modification can seek several possible changes. For example, they may wish to take the child with them, grant greater custody rights to the other parent, or slightly alter the current terms of the order if they aren’t moving very far away.
  • Changes in income. When a parent paying child support loses their job for no fault of their own, they may petition for a reduced or temporarily paused child support obligation to reflect their changed circumstances. It’s also possible for a parent to petition for greater child support if the paying parent’s income increases substantially.

Ultimately, countless possible events may influence a standing custody order or influence an associated child support order. The determining factor as to whether a recent change qualifies as valid grounds for a modification petition is if the event occurred beyond a parent’s control. For example, you cannot quit your job, then claim you can’t afford child support. However, if you cannot work after a car accident that caused a permanent disability, this would be an event beyond your control and thus qualify as valid grounds for a modification petition.

Understanding the Modification Process

The modification process begins with the modification petition. An experienced attorney can assist you in drafting your petition and filing it correctly with the court. The court will receive the petition and provide it to a judge for a formal review. If the judge determines the petition to be valid and reasonable, a hearing is scheduled. All parties involved in the order will have the right and opportunity to speak on the petition at this hearing.

If you are the petitioner and your request is reasonable and necessary, your co-parent may recognize that the petition is valid and agree to the desired change with little to no argument. Some modification hearings, however, can be very contentious. Relocation petitions often generate the most heated debates. If a parent intends to relocate with a custody order, or if a modification petition entails any substantial alteration to the original order, the other parent will likely fight the requested change vehemently. The respondent may need to provide contradictory evidence that shows the requested change would not suit the child’s best interests, or they may offer a counterproposal to the petition.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Custody Modification?

You do not technically require legal representation to file a child custody modification petition. However, having an experienced attorney guide you through the process can streamline your modification significantly. Your attorney will know how to draft your modification petition in the most compelling way possible, prepare you for your modification hearing, and help you address any unforeseen issues that may arise.

Depending on the modification you need, it may be necessary to provide the court with documentation to support your petition. Unfortunately, many people encounter situations that qualify for modifying their family court orders without immediately realizing it. If you’re not sure whether the recent events you experienced qualify as valid grounds for modification, it’s essential to consult an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible.