For divorcing parents, establishing a custody agreement is often the most challenging aspect. It can take a lot of time and effort to determine the details of the arrangement and parenting time.
So, if one parent disregards the custody agreement after it is finalized, it can be incredibly stressful. Whether they do not adhere to the visitation schedule or they make decisions without consulting the other parent, individuals might wonder: can they change the agreement?
Parents reserve the right to modify custody agreements
Generally, the answer is yes. In North Carolina, parents can seek to modify their child custody agreement if there is a substantial change in circumstances since the entry of the last Order affecting the welfare of the minor children. Some examples of a substantial change in circumstances include, but are not limited to:
- One parent means to relocate
- A parent consistently violates the current custody agreement in a manner that the existing agreement’s purpose is no longer being served
One violation – say, a parent arriving late to drop off the child – is not necessarily enough to warrant a modification. Consistent or deliberate violations, on the other hand, can be sufficient.
Of course, there are many steps parents must take to modify the agreement and any modification must also be in the child’s best interests. Additionally, there are three things they should know before they move forward.
What should parents know when seeking a modification?
Parents should make sure they understand the details and requirements for modifying their custody agreement. Even so, there are a few other things that parents must consider:
- Whether your custody agreement is a court order or a private agreement between you and the other parent. If your child custody terms are outlined in a court order, violations of this order can often lead to much larger issues than just disruption for the family. The parent violating the order could face contempt of court charges or other serious penalties. If your custody provisions are outlined in a private agreement between you and the other parent, then any violation of the agreement could amount to a breach of contract. At this stage, you could either file a breach of contract lawsuit or pursue a child custody action through the domestic court process.
- Communication should still come first. Parents should always try talking to the other parent about any issues that arise in their custody arrangement. Perhaps a modification might still be necessary, but it is often worth discussing the issues together. That way, parents might be able to reach a new agreement with less stress. Additionally, North Carolina requires all custody disputes in the court system– including modifications – to go through mediation before going to court.
- Parents should document any and all violations. If the other parent consistently ignores or violates the agreement, it is helpful to take notes of the dates and times of these specific instances. While most parents strive to resolve matters in the required mediation sessions, having documentation is helpful should matters go before a judge.
Violations of the custody agreement are not only frustrating, but they jeopardize the stability that children depend on. These matters are serious, and parents must make a plan if they seek a modification.