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What is a justifiable cause for child custody modification?

When you filed a petition for divorce in a Minnesota court, you no doubt hoped to settle the matter in as swift and economically feasible a fashion as possible. You also wanted to make decisions with your children’s best interests in mind. You understood that a court order is binding and legally enforceable regarding child custody issues. Now that some time has passed since you settled your divorce, what are you supposed to do if you have determined a need for child custody modification?

To request child custody modification, you must file a new petition in court. The judge will want to know why you are asking the court to change its initial custody order. You must be able to show “just cause,” which means a legitimate reason for requesting a change that would be in your children’s best interest.

Examples of just cause regarding child custody modification

When you and your ex signed the initial child custody agreement, you both became obligated to adhere to its terms. Those terms remain in effect unless and until the court grants modification. The following list provides several examples of legitimate reasons for requesting modification:

  • You have accepted a new job out-of-state and are relocating with the children.
  • Your ex is addicted to drugs, alcohol or gambling.
  • Your children have shown signs of neglect or abuse after being with their other parent.
  • Your ex has become incapacitated or has passed away.

In some cases (such as parental substance abuse), the court might issue temporary changes to its original custody order. For instance, a judge may restrict the parent in question to supervised visits until he or she completes a rehabilitation program.

Disregarding a court order is grounds for contempt

If your ex refuses to obey the terms of your child custody agreement, you have a right to ask the court to enforce its orders. A family court judge may hold a parent in contempt of court for disobeying a court order. The thing to remember, however, is that you must go through the proper legal channels to enforce or modify a custody order.

As mentioned earlier, unless and until the court grants modification, the original terms of the agreement remain in effect. Even if you and your ex both want to change the terms, you are not free to do so, unless the judge overseeing your case grants modification. This is true for issues regarding child custody (such as visitation, legal custody and other issues) as well as matters pertaining to child support, which are often part of a custody agreement.