After a judgment has been entered in a custody case, there can be multiple reasons for a party to request a modification or a change of that judgment. Reasons for wanting a modification could be that the ordered parenting time is no longer operative or possible or there has been a change in a party's income (if child support is involved). Requesting a modification simply because significant time has passed since a judgment was entered is not a good reason.
When can I file a complaint for modification?
M.G.L. c. 215, §6C provides that “the court may make a judgment modifying its earlier judgment as to the care and custody of [minor children] provided that the court finds that a material and substantial change in the circumstances of the parties has occurred and that a modification is necessary in the best interests of the children.”
Requesting a modification simply because you think it appropriate is not enough. You must be able to show that (1) “a material and substantial change in circumstances” has occurred; and (2) that a modification is “necessary in the best interests of the children.” This is the court's standard. If you are not able to meet these two (2) criteria, you could be setting yourself up to: (1) pay attorney's fee to the other party; (2) waste your own time; or (3) set a bad tone for the next time you do have a legitimate claim for a complaint for modification.
What are some examples of good reasons to request a modification?
- A parent is no longer a suitable caretaker;
- A parent has moved out of state or out of town to a location that affects the ordered parenting arrangement;
- The ordered parenting plan is no longer appropriate. Examples:
- A parent is now incarcerated (specifically relevant if the incarcerated parent is the custodial parent)
- A parent is abusing substances; or
- A parent is abusive, etc.
Changes in life are inevitable and may require that previous court orders change as well. Just remember to show that there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances and that the change you are requesting is in the best interests of the child(ren) involved.