Legal Information: General

Custody

If a custody order is already in place, how can I get it changed?

If you have a custody order already in place, you can ask the original court that issued the order to make changes to it (modify it) if one parent still lives in that state. Generally, you can only ask to have a final custody order modified if there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the order was issued and changing the order would be in the child’s best interests (although the exact legal standard can vary from state to state). For most states, we have more specific information about modifying a custody order. To check to see if we have this information in your state, scroll up and enter your state in the drop-down menu above.

Example: If there are new allegations of abuse, if either parent has been convicted of a crime that affects his/her parenting ability, a parent’s sudden drug use, etc. are possible examples that may count as a change in circumstances. These are just some possible examples that may be relevant in your state – there could be many others.

Generally, once a court has jurisdiction, that court will keep jurisdiction, even if you move to another state. If you have moved, you can ask the court that issued the original order to transfer the custody case to the new state that you are in. Under certain circumstances, such as if both parents and the children have left the original state, you may be able to ask the court in the new state to modify the order without going back to the original state. You will find more information about modifying a custody order in a different state in the following questions below.

Modifying an order is often complicated, and as with all custody issues, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer about this. Go to our Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals. You can also email us for more information about when someone can file to modify a custody order in a new state.

Are the laws for modifying a custody order the same in each state?

Each state has its own standard for modifying a custody order, usually found within the state custody law. In addition, there are laws about “jurisdiction,” which determine which state has the power (authority) to modify a custody order. The information below talks about the situation when you have a final child custody order from a state you used to live in, but now you have moved to a new state and you want to try to modify (change) the order in your new state’s court. The information provided is based on a law called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which has been adopted (followed) by every state except for Massachusetts (and Puerto Rico). Massachusetts (but not Puerto Rico) currently follows an older law called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA), and the rules that we describe in the questions below may be slightly different if you live in one of those states. Please feel free to write to our Email Hotline with any related questions.

This issue is quite complicated and we strongly suggest that you get a lawyer to help you. Please go to our Finding a Lawyer page to find free and paid legal help. You also may contact the Legal Resource Center on Violence Against Women at 301-270-1550 for help finding if there has been a history of domestic abuse and you have a custody case involving more than one state.

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