Can a child custody order be changed in Texas?

The court will grand modification orders if in the child's best interests

Child conservatorship (custody) arrangements, called "parenting plans" often are determined as part of the original divorce decree. Arrangements regarding custody and visitation are made in accordance with the child's best interests. However, what is in the child's best interests and what is a feasible arrangement for the parents can change over time. The law recognizes this fact and allows parents or other conservators, the ability to modify or change conservatorship agreements and orders under certain circumstances.

In order to change conservatorship or visitation arrangements, a petition to modify must be submitted to the court. Typically, this can be done at least a year after the divorce decree was finalized. However, there are circumstances where the petition can be submitted in an emergency and a parent does not have to abide by the one-year waiting period. This would be in cases where the child is in a dangerous situation or there is a serious and immediate concern for the child's welfare.

Modification and the best interests of the child

When considering the petition for modification, the court can grant the modification if it is in the child's best interests. To determine "best interests," a number of factors will be considered including:

  • The child's preference (if 12 years old or older)
  • If there has been a " material and substantial change in circumstances"
  • If a parent has had mental or medical health changes
  • If the child has had mental or medical health changes
  • If a parent has had any negative changes in lifestyle
  • If a parent has relocated or remarried
  • If a parent is unable to provide a stable home environment
  • If a parent has been imprisoned
  • If both parents agree to the proposed modification

This list is not exhaustive; the court may consider any relevant information or change in circumstances that may affect the child. The paramount concern of the court is the child's best interests and the modification will only be granted with that in mind.

Temporary modification

There may also be situations when a permanent modification to a conservatorship is not appropriate, but a temporary modification may be considered in the best interests of the child. Some reasons for a temporary modification may include a medical emergency for the child, a medical emergency for one parent (including a hospital stay for an extended period) or deployment of one parent (service member on active duty). There may be other situations where a temporary modification is needed. The court considers the specific circumstances on a case-by-case basis. Discuss your situation with an attorney to determine the best way to proceed for your child.

Petitioning for a modification

If circumstances have changed for any reason and you think a conservatorship modification would be the best for your child, it is important to contact an experienced family law attorney. Attorney Paula Lock Smyth can answer your questions, discuss your options and help your family make a much-needed change.