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Can You Change A Custody Agreement Without Going to Court?

Can You Change A Custody Agreement Without Going to Court?

If you are divorced or legally separated and have children with your ex, you likely have a court-approved custody agreement. But if you want it changed, you may want to know, can you change a custody agreement without going to court?

The custody document specifically states the time your children will spend with you and your spouse, including holidays and weekends. It is required by law that both parents abide by the terms of the agreement, as it was created in the best interests of your child/children. That said, we all know that “life happens” and circumstances do not always remain the same.

Over time, a variety of factors may contribute to the need to change your custody agreement. When this happens, you may wonder if you can change your custody agreement without going to court.

In Texas, parents who wish to modify their custody agreements must follow the appropriate laws and complete official paperwork to do so. While it may seem simpler to make changes on your own and avoid the formality of courts, attorneys, and paperwork, making changes through appropriate channels will protect you in the future. The courts only recognize agreements that they approve.

To learn the best way to make changes to your custody agreement, contact a child custody attorney in Texas. Working with experienced professionals ensures your documents are enforceable.

Changing Your Custody Order

Reasons for Modifications to a Child Custody Agreement

When your original custody agreement was finalized, it was drafted and approved by the courts to provide the best possible situation for your child/children. While we all believe that our wants and needs are important, when it comes to custody, the courts always look out for the child’s best interest.

What worked for you and your ex at the time of your divorce or separation may no longer be appropriate. As time passes, situations can change, and different things may need to be addressed. These can include:

  • Change in jobs/work schedules for one or both parents
  • Parent relocation
  • Neglect or abuse
  • Parental criminal issues
  • Custody violations
  • Child preferences
  • Death of parent
  • Parental substance abuse.

Clearly, the reasons for custody changes are broad-based and extremely varied. Some require immediate attention to protect the health and safety of the child, while others are less urgent although still important to address.

How Hard is It to Change a Custody Agreement?

Both the circumstances surrounding the requested amendment as well as the support for the change by both parents help to determine whether a child custody agreement can be easy to change. However, for the new order to be legally enforceable, it must be changed by the court.

That said, when both parents are in agreement regarding the custody change, the process is quite simple in Texas. But, certain rules do apply.

Changes to Custody Within One Year

First, it is important to recognize that in general, in Texas, custody agreements must remain in effect for one year before they can be altered.  However, the law does recognize the fact that sometimes adjustments must be made sooner to protect the child/children.  For a change to be made prior to the one-year mark, the following must be true:

  • The adult who has primary custody must be the requestor of the change or must be in agreement with the requestor, or
  • The safety of the child must be at risk. This means that he or she is in an environment which is putting his/ her physical or emotional well-being in danger.
  • Someone other than the individual with primary custody has had possession of and has been caring for the child for at least 6 months (per the custodial person’s approval). (Exceptions exist for active military personnel.)

To commence this process, you as the requestor must complete a form entitled Declaration in Support of Changing Primary Custody Within One Year. Once this has been submitted to the court, it will be reviewed by a judge who will either approve it (if he/she believes all of the conditions have been met) or deny it (if he/she believes the request is not valid).

Modifying a Custody Agreement After One Year

Who Can Request a Modification?

If your agreement has been in place for at least one year, then you can alter it. It is important to recognize that either parent can file for a modification of the child custody order, not only the parent with primary custody. Individuals other than parents can also request modifications, under certain circumstances. For example, if you are a relative (grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc.), and the parents have passed away, you can address the court. This is just one example of someone other than a parent requesting a custody modification.

Types of Modifications to Child Custody Agreements

Based on Texas law, three types of custody modifications exist.

  • Modification by Agreement: This occurs when both parents agree on the issues at hand including the details in the modification suit forms. Quite often people ask “can a child custody agreement be easy to change?” In cases where modification by agreement is possible, the answer is a resounding “yes.” It stands to reason that when both parents agree and want to make changes, the process is easier. When this is the case, they can propose their changes to the court. A judge will review the request and, assuming it remains in the best interest of the child/children, it will likely be approved. At this point, because the changes were made in court, the modified agreement is enforceable by law. 
  • Modification by Default: When one parent wants to modify the agreement and serves the other, but that person does not respond, the suit is said to be filed by default. When this happens, the case is resolved without their input.
  • Contested Modification: Of course, relationships are not always amicable, and parents do not always agree on how to raise their children. When the parents disagree, you have a contested modification. This is the case when one parent files a modification form and the other refuses to sign it. The resolution to situations like this takes place at a hearing.  Timing plays a key role in the contested modification process.  For example, you must provide forty-five days’ notice to your ex regarding the hearing.

Regardless of the type of modification, all changes to custody agreements require going through the courts.

Informal changes made between parties would not be legally enforceable.

While some issues can be easily resolved through filing paperwork, other situations are more complicated. When your modification request is contested, the assistance of a child custody lawyer is advised.

Working with an Attorney to Navigate the Process of Changes to a Child Custody Agreement

Contested Hearings in Family Law

Because the outcome of a contested hearing, which will be determined by a judge in family court, are critical to the well-being of your child/children, you should meet with an experienced and well-regarded attorney.

These cases and their relevant procedures can be complex. Even setting the hearing requires very specific steps. Your Texas child custody attorneys will work with you and manage all administrative tasks. They understand the specifics of the state law and can confirm that you comply with all pertinent regulations. These professionals can also ensure that the agreement that is drafted fully protects you.

They will also be able to explain the mediation process, if necessary. Mediation, which may be required, is leveraged to try to help you and your ex reach an agreement without a judge.

Our Evans & Herlihy Child Custody Lawyers Can Help You

Experience and Expertise on Your Side

When the decisions of a judge will affect the well-being of your children as well as the future of your family, you will want to have the support of a qualified child custody attorney.  The attorneys at Evans & Herlihy are experienced in Texas Family Code Chapter 153, which deals with child custody.  Additionally, they regularly work with the local family court. As such, they understand their operations and processes and can put this knowledge to work for you.

Finally, they understand and appreciate the emotional aspect of child custody cases. You are doing your best to advocate for your child, and they stand ready to help you.

Can I Modify Custody or Visitation Without Going to Court?

In Texas, the answer to the question “can I modify custody or visitation without going to court” is “no.” So, if you have a child custody agreement in place and your situation has changed, contact the child custody lawyers at Evans & Herlihy today at (512) 732-2727. Their attorneys will review your current agreement and advise you as to the best way to effect the changes you need. They will work with you throughout the process, answer all of your questions and ensure all of the required documents are submitted correctly and in a timely fashion. And, if you need to present your case to a judge in a contested hearing, they will represent you.

A reputable family lawyer will protect you and your interests and help you obtain the best possible situation for your children.