Situations change as life goes on. If you find that your custody arrangement no longer is in the best interest of your kids, then you can always request to make changes to it. Remember that courts are always looking out for the kids first, so you’ll have to prove that your new arrangement will benefit your kids.
To see if changing your court-ordered child custody agreement is right for you, consider:
- The overall process to change a court order for child custody in Maryland, and how you’d want to pursue it;
- What counts as a “material change” to justify the changed custody agreement – and what doesn’t; and
- How to prove an order modification is in the “best interest” of your child so a judge might agree.
Maryland’s Legal Process to Change Child Custody
Once your local Maryland court makes their initial decision for official child custody, either parent can ask that a custody order or a child support order be modified.
That said, it can be very difficult to get a modification.
That’s because in Maryland, the court assumes that the former custody agreement is in the child’s best interest until someone offers evidence to the contrary.
The parent seeking a modification of custody must prove to the judge that the previous order should be changed.
Courts don’t especially like changing decrees and contracts unless they have to, so you’ll have to be very persuasive with excellent evidence.
For example, under Maryland law, a child who is under the age of 8 years old cannot be left unattended at home, at school, or in a vehicle. (No “latchkey kids” in our state!)
If you can prove the other guardian has broken this law and left the child unsupervised, then a judge may entertain the idea of modifying custody in your favor.
However, just like when you initially got the child custody order, the judge’s main focus is still on what is in the best interest of the child. A court order can’t be changed just because it’s inconvenient or relatively expensive to maintain.
Proving “Material Change” to Modify Child Custody
Under Maryland law, a parent who wishes to modify a court order regarding custody and visitation must successfully prove that there has been what’s known as a “material change in circumstances.”
In order for it to be a material change, there needs to be a big difference in the circumstances from the first custody arrangement to the new proposed one. That is, you have to prove that the “material” facts of the case have changed since the new order.
Qualifying material changes to child custody arrangements may include:
- Interfering with court-ordered visitation
- Moving out of state
- Inability to comply with the previous order
- Misuse of custody funds
- Assault, abuse, or other violence
- Dangerous home situations
- Dramatic shifts in a child’s behavior
The following scenarios do not automatically qualify as a material change for custody cases, but may be part of a broader justification for modification. These may be especially useful if you’re trying to gain custody of the child for the first time, now that your life has changed.
- Completing a rehabilitation program
- Release from prison or parole
- Job loss or change of shift schedule
- The other parent’s dating habits or acts of infidelity
- Aspects of the child or parent’s sexuality or gender
- The child growing up
Proving “Best Interest” in Child Custody Modifications
Simply proving a material change doesn’t immediately modify the custody agreement, however.
Even if the court agrees to a material change in circumstances, the petitioning parent also prove that – because of the proven material change – custody modification is in the child’s best interest.
Therefore, the modification of custody request must prove to the court that the child will be better off after the change has been made.
While there is no exhaustive list of all considered factors, a judge considers the whole picture related to the care and upbringing of the affected child.
The court will also look into your reasons for modifying your custody agreement. They will not modify a custody arrangement because you’re tired of driving to meet with the other parent, for example.
If the court cannot find material change occurred with the current arrangement – or how the proposed arrangement will improve the child’s life – they will deny the request. You’ll need to start your petition all over again, approaching the request from a different angle.
Ultimately, custody modifications are up to the discretion of the judge. Presented with the right evidence and the right lawyer, you may be able to get the custody agreement you want.
If you’d like a lawyer to look over your potential custody modification case, schedule a free initial consultation. We would be happy to help your child get the custody arrangement they deserve to grow up happy, healthy, and loved.