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How do I modify custody terms after a divorce?

When New York couples go through a divorce, ending that chapter of their lives is never more difficult than when there are children involved. Children’s needs change constantly as they are growing up, so for them, the divorce was just a snapshot in time.

The parents’ focus may also change over time, due to different work or life circumstances or a shift in priorities. Parents whose new lives, financial situation, or location have made the custodial or visitation terms of the divorce difficult may need to request a post-decree modification. Residents of White Plains and surrounding areas may want to explore legal options that will allow them to address these and other divorce issues.

What happens in a post-decree modification?

When one legally separated or divorced parent wants to make a change to an existing court order, they may file a motion for the court’s review of the settlement agreement. One or both parties may also request a modification of a custody order when there is a disagreement over the terms of the original court order.

New York residents must show a significant change in life or financial circumstances, such as a relocation, job loss, or evidence of substance abuse or addiction, that is impacting the child or the parent’s relationship with them. Because it can be challenging to change a court order when both parents are not in agreement over the terms, the party filing the motion must show the court that this modification is in the best interests of the child.

What is in the best interests of the child in New York?

Every state prioritizes the needs of the child in all matters related to custody by examining the circumstances of each case against a standard of what is in the best interests of the child. In New York, a judge will determine if a modification, including a relocation, is appropriate after reviewing:

  • the reasons the parents are objecting to or requesting a change.
  • the relationship of the child to their parents.
  • how the change will affect the child’s relationship to the parent.
  • how a move or other change will impact their emotional, educational, or physical wellbeing or benefit the custodial parent financially.

In cases involving military families, when granting a modification of a custody order, the court will weigh in a parent’s capacity to continue being the caretaker or custodial parent if they are deployed or on active duty. A military parent’s return from active duty can provide a legitimate justification for a modification.