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What constitutes “substantial change” in child custody matters?

On Behalf of | Mar 16, 2022 | Family Law |

It might seem like your child custody matters are settled once you obtain an initial order from the court. But this is oftentimes far from the truth. In fact, many parents find themselves questioning whether a custody modification is in their child’s best interests long after their initial order is issued.

Although you may think that the circumstances surrounding your case warrant modification, you have to look at the situation in light of the law. After all, if you end up seeking a child custody modification, then you’re going to have to tailor your arguments to applicable statutes if you hope to persuade a judge to rule in your favor.

What warrants a custody modification?

Under Florida law, child custody can be modified if there is a “substantial change in circumstances.” But what does that mean? In short, a substantial change is one that is involuntary, significant, material, and permanent in nature. The change must have been one that could not have been foreseen at the time of the initial custody ruling. Therefore, when you’re looking for what constitutes a substantial change in circumstances, you should be looking for changes that truly affects the way a person lives.

What are some examples of substantial changes?

There are a lot of circumstances that can give rise to a substantial change finding. Any of the following may be deemed by a court to be sufficient to warrant a custody modification:

  • The onset of a drug or alcohol addiction
  • A decline in mental health
  • Parental alienation
  • A sudden inability to meet the child’s basic or special needs
  • Evidence of abuse or neglect

There are a lot of major life changes that may seem substantial, but in the eyes of the law are not. Parental relocation, for example, usually isn’t enough. Even bad relationships between the parents or between one parent and the child may not be enough.

How to prove a substantial change

Proving a substantial change can be challenging. But don’t let that fact deter you from seeking the child modification that is best for your child. To move forward with proving a substantial change, dive deep into the issue at hand. If it’s drug addiction, gather police records and speak to witnesses who may be able to attest to the other parent’s substance abuse problem. If it’s a mental health issue, then you may want to try to obtain medical records or, if that’s not possible, then ask the court to order an evaluation of the other parent. There are some strong strategies that you can utilize here to support your position.

Don’t forget best interests

If you succeed in showing that there’s been a substantial change in circumstances, then you’re still going to have to show that your proposed child custody modification is in the child’s best interests. This means that you’ll have to present evidence that speaks to that statutory best interest factors, which are wide-ranging and all-encompassing. So, as you prepare your case, make sure that you’re taking a holistic and comprehensive approach.

Confidently approach your child custody matters

Your child’s safety and well-being, as well as your relationship with him or her, very well could be on the line. With that in mind, you need to know how to confidently and competently navigate your child custody issues. We know that isn’t easy to do, especially when there’s a lot of conflict involved. But with a strong legal advocate on your side, you can craft the compelling legal arguments needed to appropriately present your position and maximize your chances of protecting your child’s best interests.