Generally, parents cannot fully void a child custody agreement so that no formal order is in place. Instead, parents who are unhappy with an existing child custody agreement must create a modified order and submit it to the court for approval. The exact process for proposing a new child custody order varies from state to state. Thus, it is important for parents to review and understand their respective state laws governing child custody matters before preparing a new custody agreement.
Uncontested Custody Agreements
Reach an agreement with the other parent regarding the new custody terms. In many instances, parents can minimize court involvement if they can mutually agree on a new custody agreement. If the parents are able to negotiate the new terms on their own, they should begin the modification process by outlining their new agreement in writing.
Include language explicitly stating the new custody order replaces the old one. Provide information about the initial agreement, including the date it was enacted and the name of the court that put the agreement into effect.
Format your agreement according to state requirements. Each jurisdiction has its own rules for how to format a child custody agreement. To ensure the new agreement complies with state law, you may want to use a template or sample agreement. You can find sample agreements through the clerk of court or an online legal document provider.
Execute the document. If both parents agree to the new custody agreement, both should sign and date the document. Some jurisdictions may require you to sign the agreement in the presence of a notary public.
File your agreement with the clerk of the court. In most instances, parents will need to file the new agreement in the same court that entered the initial custody order, unless they have moved out of state or have not had ties with that location for a significant amount of time. If you have an existing case number from a previous custody matter or divorce, you may be required to file the agreement under this docket number.
Attend the hearing. In some jurisdictions, families will need to attend a hearing in front of a judge, who will review the new order and determine whether it is acceptable.
Contested Custody Agreements
Consult a professional mediator. In situations where parents cannot reach a mutually agreeable custody arrangement, the court may require the parties to meet with a professional mediator before hearing the case. If the parents cannot reach an agreement through mediation, the court may need to decide the terms of the new custody arrangement through a trial.
File a motion requesting a new custody agreement. If you have worked with a mediator and still cannot reach an agreement, in many courts, you will then need to file a motion with the court asking a judge to create a new custody order that overrides the old one.
Present evidence to the judge indicating why the new custody arrangement is necessary. The judge will decide what custody arrangement is in the child’s best interest. Such evidence might include proof that the custodial parent is abusing or neglecting the child or otherwise not meeting the child’s physical, emotional or developmental needs.
Failing to comply with a custody order can result in civil or criminal penalties.
Until the new custody order is in place, the existing custody agreement will remain in effect.
If you are unsure of your rights, seek professional assistance.
- Child Welfare Information Gateway: Determining the Best Interests of the Child: Summary of State Laws
- Missouri Judiciary: Motion to Modify Child Custody (and Support)
- American Bar Association: Mediation
- American Bar Association: Custody and Visitation
- University of Pennsylvania Law School: Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
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