What are substantial change in circumstances and why do they matter?
A substantial change is what must be proven in Florida courts when a parent wishes to modify a previous court agreement. It may be an individual who must pay child support and has recently lost their job or received a significant pay cut. It may be a non-custodial or time sharing parent, whose job now allows them to spend more time at home and would like to spend that with their children. Whatever your particular circumstances are, if there has been a substantial change which affects a court agreement, it is vital that you protect yourself. Otherwise, the court might find you in contempt for not following their mandates, which could result in needlessly unpleasant consequences. We encourage our clients looking for a Tallahassee family law attorney to seek to modify untenable child support obligations or parenting plans before it looks like they are willfully violating the Court’s order.
What classifies as a substantial change in circumstances?
Florida’s Supreme Court has interpreted the “substantial change” requirement to mean a parent seeking modification of a custody order to show:
- Their circumstances have changed “substantially and materially”
- Such circumstance was not considered when the original plan was conceived.
- It is in the child’s best interest to change the custody plan.
Substantial and material changes imply a wide arrange of possibilities, and is not inherently negative. While it may be due to a serious disease or loss of employment, the change could also be a promotion which allows you a more flexible schedule, or a or a job relocation which places you closer to your child. It must be significant, though, and directly affect the court agreement you are now attempting to modify. Circumstances vary and it is not always clear whether a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. The same exact job change in one situation may be meet the standard in one case, but not in another. Consulting with a divorce lawyer in Tallahassee is a good idea to understand your chances of proving a substantial change in circumstances.
Modifying your court order when both parents agree
If both parents agree to the modification, then it is simply a matter of informing your lawyers and filing the signed paperwork with the court. It is vital that the agreement is written and filed, though. Do not allow it to remain informal and oral, or the other guardian can claim at any time that the agreement never existed. If you discussed a new time-sharing plan but did not sign and file it, the other parent could claim you are willfully violating the Court’s agreement. A Tallahassee family lawyer can assist you with drafting a simple modification to be filed with the Court and you will generally not even be required to go to court.
Modifying your court order when the parents disagree
If the parents do not agree on the modifications, then the one who wants to implement the change will file a petition to modify with the court, and both parents will participate in a hearing. The only exception is if a child is in immediate danger, which means the secondary guardian might temporarily become the primary caregiver. Your lawyer will draft a petition for you, describing the change in circumstances and what you are hoping to achieve. At the hearing, the Court will determine whether a substantial change has occurred and if so, what change of timesharing or parental responsibility is in the best interest of the child. The court will examine safety, happiness, stability and a myriad of other factors, including (after a certain age) the child’s wishes. You could include evidence such as school or medical records, and have witnesses such as teachers, doctors, and therapists.
Whether you’re curious about whether you have experienced a significant change in circumstances, or you are ready to file the motion, consulting with a Tallahassee divorce lawyer is a good idea. He or she can advise you and if you choose, guide you and properly argue your case, in order to ensure you and your child are protected. We have litigated many successful cases at Liebenhaut Law, and you can contact us twenty four hours.