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Changing the terms of a Texas child custody order

Circumstances in person’s life continually change. Divorced parents are no exception to the rule. As a result, it often becomes necessary to change a child custody order to reflect the changed circumstances.

Fortunately, Texas law allows child custody orders to be changed. Common examples of events that allow divorced parents to change their child custody orders are:

  • Employment relocation
  • Parental abuse of the child
  • An unsafe or unhealthy living environment for the child
  • Other changes that make the current child custody order no longer reflect the child’s best interests

How orders are changed

Under Texas law, either of the child’s parents may request a child custody modification by filing a petition with the court in the same county that granted the divorce. If the child has moved since the divorce, the case may be transferred to the new county.

Child modification is a fairly quick and easy process if both parents agree on the changes to the order. In these cases, both parents sign the modified order and have it approved by the court. As soon as the court approves the order, the modified version is enforceable by either parent.

If the parents disagree on the terms of the new order (or the need for a modification at all), the parties need to go to court before the order may be modified. Under the law, a court will not approve a modification of the original order unless the parent seeking modification can show:

  • The modifications are in the best interests of the child; and
  • The child is at least 12 years old and has expressed that he or she wants to change the primary caregiver; or
  • There has been a “material and substantial change in circumstances” (Sec. 156.007) since the child custody order has gone into effect

In deciding whether the modifications are in the child’s best interest, the court considers many factors including, but not limited to:

  • The preferences of the child, if he or she is sufficiently mature to voice them
  • The physical and emotional needs of the child
  • Any acts that indicate problems with the existing parent-child relationship

If the child is under the age of 12, the parent seeking modification must show that there has been a substantial or material change in circumstances. Under the law, this has been interpreted to include life events such as:

  • Remarriage (or other changes in marital status) of one of the child’s parents
  • Changes in employment
  • Relocation of one of the parents
  • Medical conditions

Under the law, if one of the parents has received deferred adjudication or has been convicted of domestic violence, the court must automatically find that there has been a substantial or material change in circumstances.

An attorney can help

If changes in your life have made the modification of your child custody order necessary to preserve your child’s well being, it is wise to first consult with an experienced family law attorney. An attorney can help you obtain the outcome that would be best for your child.