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FAMILY LAW 14: The threshold to changing custody, finding a change of circumstance.

At a custody trial, it was established that plaintiff had a history of mental health problems, and that she was in therapy and taking prescription medication. She was working two jobs, a full-time job at a department store and a job at a bar on weekends. She testified that defendant demeaned her and uttered derogatory remarks toward her, sometimes in the presence of their daughter.

The threshold to changing custody, finding a change of circumstance or proper cause are intended to erect a barrier against removal of a child from an established custodial environment and to minimize unwarranted and disruptive changes of custody orders.

Defendant argued that the following warranted a custody re-evaluation: (1) the fact that plaintiff resumed her relationship with boyfriend and moved in with him; (2) the fact that plaintiff no longer had the financial capacity to support herself and daughter; (3) the discontinuance of preschool for daughter; and (4) defendant’s successful counseling.

It is not unusual that when a divorce occurs one or the other or both parents will become involved romantically with someone else. So, the fact that the plaintiff is now engaged in a relationship in and of itself is not grounds to reexamine this matter. It is not proper cause. Proper cause would exist if there was a showing that the man was unstable, that he was acting out in ways that would cause a detrimental effect upon the child that could affect his life in an inappropriate way or in a negative fashion. The only evidence I have before me is that boyfriend does actively pursue mental health treatment and that he does provide a reasonably safe physical environment.

Turning to plaintiff’s decision to cease treatment for her mental health issues, the record indicates that she ceased attending therapy sessions with the approval of her therapist. As for discontinuing medication, defendant did not establish that discontinuing medication had resulted in behavior that would give rise to a finding of proper cause or a change in circumstances warranting a change in custody.

The circumstances alleged to warrant a reevaluation of custody do not amount to something more than the normal life changes (both good and bad) that occur during the life of a child.

The court determined that an established custodial environment existed with both parents, and in regard to the remaining statutory best interests factors, the court found that they each weighed equally. The court awarded plaintiff sole legal and physical custody, but ordered that the parties would exercise week-on/week-off parenting time.

If you can prove a substantial change in circumstances, a child custody modification is possible. While it is possible to seek a modification at any time, receiving the modification is much more difficult. Contact Aldrich Legal Services and schedule a free consultation if you would like to meet with one of our lawyers about your case. You may also send us an email at any time.

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