For the most part, court orders are not set in stone. Individuals can request modifications to custody orders as circumstances dictate. As they did before creating an order, the courts will consider the best interests of the child before granting a motion to alter an existing agreement.
Per FindLaw, Massachusetts’s law outlines specific standards for changing a custody agreement. If a case does not meet these specific standards, there is little chance that a judge will seriously consider a modification.
Standards to change custody in MA
Before a judge will grant a request to modify a court order, the petitioner must prove that two things are true. The first is that a substantial or material change in circumstances has occurred since the handing down of the original judgment and that necessitates a modification. The second is that the existing situation is not in the best interests of the child.
FindLaw provides examples of what constitutes a “substantial or material change in circumstances.” Though every situation is unique, the change must negatively impact the child’s welfare and/or the parent’s ability to care for the child. Examples of situations that may necessitate a modification include a change in work or job schedules; relocation; a parent’s substance abuse problem; a parent who is newly sober; or the occurrence of domestic violence incidents.
Requesting a modification to a court order
Mass.gov explains the process for requesting a modification to a child custody order. If a petitioner can show that a modification is necessary by legal standards, he or she must file a Complaint for Modification. However, if both parents agree to the modification, they must file a Changing a Judgement or Temporary Order by Agreement General Information. Either way, the party or parties will have to pay a $50 filing fee and a $5 summons fee. Petitioners can file in person or via the mail.
If only one party wants to change the custody order, he or she must serve the other party within 10 days of the hearing. To get a date for the hearing, the petitioner should check with the division in which he or she filed the case.