Is it difficult to modify an existing family law agreement?

The arrangements you make during a divorce or separation — such as child custody — are aggravating enough the first time around. The stress is often renewed, however, when certain life events change a person’s circumstances and necessitate a revision to an existing family law agreement. And therein lies the trouble. Such agreements were set in place by the court system, which means they are legally binding. Is it difficult to modify them?

The short answer is yes.

The reason it is difficult to modify these agreements is plain and simple: the court determined that the resolutions put forth in that agreement were in the best interest of the child. In order to change previously agreed upon arrangements, the best interest of any children involved must somehow be better served by the new agreement. Although uncommon, it is possible for this to have happened.

Some factors that might make it easier to change your family law agreement include: changing physical or mental health of parents or guardians, or altered financial status. If your child was too young to speak at the time of the first agreement, his or her wishes may also be taken more seriously by the court system now that he or she is older and wiser. 

Never make a decision that could put you or your child’s future in jeopardy. If you decide to “alter” the terms of the agreement without first finding legal aid, then you could find yourself imprisoned on contempt of court charges. These are serious matters, and so you should take them as seriously as you can. 

First, you will want to hire a modifications attorney to facilitate the process of amending the previously made agreement. Your attorney will let you know what you can or cannot do, what you should or should not say in court, and teach you about potential obstacles that might prevent you from getting what you want. 

The best case scenario is that you and your spouse agree on the changes to the old arrangement, and that the new arrangement continues to serve the child’s best interests. Unfortunately this is also the least likely scenario. Usually parents are at odds with one another.

When parents disagree, the parent who wants to change the agreement will have to file a petition with the family court in the relevant jurisdiction to modify the previously made family law agreement. The opposing parent will be informed of the petition and has the right to make his or her voice heard.

Most likely, a social worker will make a home visit to both parties — and that person’s input can make a big difference in the outcome of your case. Sometimes the court will also order mediation, so you should be prepared for such a possibility.