If a custody order is already in place, how can I get it changed?
You can file to have your current custody order modified (changed) if there has been a material (substantial) change in circumstances since your most recent order was issued.* When making a decision about whether or not to change the order, the judge will look at whether there has, in fact, been a change in circumstances and whether or not changing the order will be in the best interests of the child.**
A “material change in circumstances” may include (but is not limited to):
- one parent intentionally keeping the other parent from visiting with the child without good reason;*
- changes in the child’s life, such as special educational needs or health needs;
- negative changes in the life of the parent who has custody, which will impact the welfare of the child; or
- positive changes in the life of the parent without custody, such as remarriage, creation of a stable home environment, and increased ability to provide emotional and financial support for the child.**
Generally, you would file a petition for modification at the juvenile and domestic relations district court that issued your original custody order. You would have to arrange for the abuser to be served with the petition so that s/he has the chance to appear in court. The hearing may be similar to previous custody hearings, but you will have to prove that a material change in circumstances has occurred and that it is in the child's best interests to change the order.
Also, if one of the parties in a custody case is a member of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, National Guard, or any other reserve, and the reason for the modification request is that party's deployment, then it can be requested that the petition be reviewed more quickly by the judge.*
* Va. Code § 20-108
** See Keel v. Keel, 303 S.E.2d 917 (Va. 1983)