Can I Modify my Child Custody Agreement?

In New Jersey, an application regarding custody will be decided by the court and an order will be entered. However, in New Jersey there is strong public policy in favor of encouraging parents to resolve their custody disputes by way of agreement. Many parents may wonder how to modify their custody agreement once the terms have been finalized.

Parents may believe their custody agreement is permanent once it has been filed with the court. While a filed custody agreement becomes an enforceable order upon signature of the court, a custody agreement can be modified. In New Jersey, a custody agreement can be modified in two ways. First, the parent unhappy with the agreement can seek modification by filing an application with the court. This application is otherwise known as a motion to modify custody. The second way to modify custody is to negotiate the terms directly with the other parent and memorialize the revised custody agreement by way of a formal consent order. It is important to note that in order for the new custody agreement to become an enforceable court order, the agreement must be filed with the Superior Court of New Jersey. Should the Superior Court Judge approve of the revised custody agreement, the new agreement will be signed and become an enforceable order. Typically, a judge will sign the submitted consent order as long as both parties’ signatures are properly witnessed, and the terms of the agreement do not put the child in danger.

If the parents cannot come to an amicable agreement to modify custody, the parent requesting the custody changes should be prepared to argue there has been a significant change in circumstances since the original custody agreement was entered. Additionally, the filing parent should be prepared to set forth a basis showing this change is averse to the child’s best interest and, therefore, the original custody agreement should be modified to an alternate custody plan. Some common examples of modification applications that may qualify as “significant changes in circumstances” include a parent’s change in employment, an unexpected change in one or both parent’s finances, a relocation of the parties or children, a death, a change in the child’s desire to spend more or less time with one parent. Modification motions are highly fact sensitive, and a judge decides such applications on a case-by-case basis.

When deciding an application related to custody, the New Jersey Courts apply the best interest of the child standard. In determining the best interest of the child, New Jersey Courts are guided by a variety of factors, which are then applied to the specific facts of case.

These factors include:

  • The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
  • The parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow visitation not based on substantiated abuse;
  • The interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;
  • The history of domestic violence, if any;
  • The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;
  • The preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision;
  • The needs of the child;
  • The stability of the home environment offered;
  • The quality and continuity of the child’s education;
  • The fitness of the parents;
  • The geographical proximity of the parents’ homes;
  • The extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation;
  • The parents’ employment responsibilities; and
  • The age and number of children.

For more information regarding modification of custody in New Jersey, contact the Law Office of Lyons & Associates.  At the Law Office of Lyons & Associates, we represent family law clients throughout New Jersey.  We place a premium on personalized service and attention. For a private consultation, contact us by e-mail or call our office at 908-575-9777.