Several Things To Know If You File To Modify Your Post-Decree Custody Order
Hire A Qualified Family Law Attorney To Present And Argue Your Custody Case
Our guest contributor this week is Judianne Cochran a nationally recognized expert/consultant in the following disciplines: sex offender profiling; interstate and international parental abduction; interstate custody and parental alienation. She has testified in numerous Courts throughout Ohio and the country. Judi presently resides in Columbus, Ohio.
There are several issues that you need to address if you have decided that you need to modify your original custody order. The first is whether your case meets the necessary criteria for modification – the primary of which is a “change of circumstance”. One thing you must understand is that this does NOT include the myth that at a certain age the child can make a choice – this is not supported by law. A child’s wishes may be considered but are not valid grounds to modify a custody order. For the child to have any voice in the issue, you will probably have to have a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) appointed to assess or re-assess the current circumstances.
There are many changes in circumstances, judged on a case-by-case basis, and may include a pattern of interference with parenting time, problems within the residential parent’s home, a drastic change in the child’s behavior and/or grades and behavior in school, medical neglect, false allegations, and last, the wishes of the child.
Once you are convinced that you have valid criteria, you are ready to begin your search for a qualified attorney. For post-decree issues, you will need to narrow this search to a list of those attorneys whose primary practice is Family Law. You will want to list those attorneys who primarily practice in your court jurisdiction since they are familiar with the court you will be arguing in, know what the judge or magistrate will be looking for and will have earned respect with those “triers of fact”. You don’t need a hired gun, you need a good family law attorney who can address your issues and can credibly present and argue your case.
Before contacting an attorney you should first write down what you hope to achieve if you file to modify custody order. You should then prepare a list of the issues that have created a need to modify the original parenting arrangement. Once you have this ready, you should then make a list of questions to ask the attorney(s) you have selected from your list. This list should include the following:
- Do you accept post-decree cases? (Many attorneys do not want to deal with the litigation necessary in working with modifications. They may only take cases at initial filing or if there is agreement between the parties.)
- Do my issues rise to change of circumstance?
- Do you recommend using a GAL?
- Do I need to have custody evaluations ordered?
In preparation for an initial consultation, prepare a log showing a thumbnail sketch of the history that has brought you to the conclusion that you need to modify the custody order currently in place. Try to obtain any documentation in advance, like school records, medical reports, dates showing the pattern of interference (a log or marked calendar), copies of emails or texts that show interference (refusal of parenting time, phone time, etc.) – anything that supports your position.
Family Advice Often Not Useful In Post-Decree Litigation
Ask for help in making your attorney selection. Very often I receive calls from parents who want or need help in locating the appropriate attorney. Do NOT take advice from your family, friends, co-workers, etc. While they may be divorced or have a custody order, unless they have a history of successful post-decree litigation, their advice is not useful. In fact, this kind of advice can turn out to be expensive and end only in frustration. Start on the right foot by choosing the attorney best qualified for your particular situation. A strong caution is do not think that you can represent yourself. Keep in mind that if licensed, qualified family law attorneys do not want to deal with complicated post-decree issues, then you won’t stand a chance of modifying your custody order.
If you want help with the process, want expertise and explanation, don’t call your buddies, but rather contact the experts who have the ability to assist you and your attorney in the process. Read my other family law articles on this site regarding custody issues and which attorneys to avoid, make your list of qualified family law firms, and then begin your process. No matter where you live, there are qualified family law attorneys who will be straightforward with you and will have the experience with post-decree modifications. It is important that you take this first step into the arena with people you can trust.
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