In appropriate circumstances, parents may petition the court to modify child custody, which changes the terms of the existing arrangement to reflect current circumstances.
A child custody modification can be an excellent solution for parents whose lifestyles or situations have changed significantly since the original order was issued — but this option is only reserved for certain circumstances.
Child custody modification requirements in Arizona
Arizona law has strict requirements that must be met before the court will consider a modification. In most cases, there must be a “substantial and continuing change” to the circumstances affecting the children. While there’s no clear legal definition of this phrase, it generally describes a significant change in the family’s circumstances that’s likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future.
If a family meets these criteria, the parent seeking the modification must wait at least one year after the date of the initial order before filing a request. The law doesn’t limit the number of times a parent can petition for a modification, and a new modification could potentially be granted every year if the parent can demonstrate a compelling reason for the change.
Exceptions to the standard requirements
There are a few exceptions to the above rules. For starters, if the child’s current living environment poses a serious risk of endangerment to their “physical, mental, moral, or emotional health.”
Situations involving certain forms of domestic violence by a parent or a member of the parent’s household are also valid exceptions. There is no mandatory waiting period for these types of custody modifications, and parents can file for them at any time.
Level of compliance with the custody order
Another exception applies when a parent fails to comply with the terms of a child custody order. In these cases, the other parent may file a modification petition six months after the order is issued without needing to meet the substantial and continuing change requirement.
Parent in the military
Special rules also apply to military families in Arizona. If either parent is in the military and is transferred out of state, the legal guidelines for modifying child custody orders may be different.
Common circumstances warranting modification
A child custody order can remain in effect for up to 18 years, and circumstances can change greatly during such a long stretch of time. Some of the most common situations that may warrant a child custody modification in Arizona include:
- Child abuse or neglect
- Substance use that interferes with parenting
- Extreme changes to the safety and stability of the child’s living conditions, such as long-term homelessness
- Changes to work, school, or extracurricular schedules
- Relocation of either parent to another state or a different region of Arizona
- A new medical diagnosis or disability within the family affecting the child’s needs or the parent’s caregiving ability
- Changes to the child’s age and maturity — a schedule that was appropriate for a two-year-old might not be appropriate for a child who is now twelve
Keep in mind that the court’s decision to grant or deny a child custody modification request is based on what’s in the best interests of the child. Even if a family meets the legal requirements for modification, the court may choose to deny the request if it believes that modifying the order would be detrimental to the child’s wellbeing.
Let us help with your custody modification case
At Blanchette Law PLLC, we understand that your family’s needs are unique and can change over time. If you believe that your current child custody order isn’t serving your family’s best interests, our Tempe child custody lawyer can review your case and help you determine whether a modification is the right course of action — and, if so, guide you through the process of achieving it.
We provide compassionate, personalized representation to families throughout the greater Phoenix area and beyond, and we’re ready to do the same for you. Call Mrs. Blanchette at (602) 881-1748 to schedule a consultation and begin exploring your options.