Clients often ask if their child custody order is the “final” order. The answer to that question can be yes and no. While the Court may refer to custody orders made after the Judgment for Dissolution is entered as “final”or “permanent” it is important for parents to understand that no order is “final” in that it can never be changed. Child custody orders may always be modified if certain criteria are met.
A “permanent” custody order is really a misnomer because even a “permanent” order can be modified if a party can demonstrate to the court that there has been a significant change of circumstances indicating that a different custody arrangement would be in the child‣s best interest. The courts require a change of circumstances because they do not want to uproot the child and change what the child has become accustomed to except for imperative reasons. The Court has said that once it has been established under a judicial custody decision that a particular custody arrangement is in the best interests of the child, the trial court should preserve the established mode of custody unless some significant change in circumstances indicates that a different arrangement would be in the child‣s best interests.
This means that if you want to modify the current child custody order (for example if the other parent has primary physical custody of the child and you want to change the order so that you are the primary physical custodian) you would have the burden of showing that a significant change of circumstances has taken place. Thus, even “permanent” custody orders can be revisited and modified.
If you wish to modify your current child custody order, you should first consult with an experienced family law attorney to determine if you can get over that first hurdle of meeting the appropriate burden of proof.