Most Floridians who have gone through a divorce involving issues of asset division, alimony, child custody and child support assume that the judge’s signature on the final order closes all issues between the divorcing spouses. As we all know, life is uncertain, and the most carefully negotiated and drafted child custody order may require modification of certain terms even years after the final judgment and decree was entered.
Procedure for requesting modification
The court that entered the final order setting the amount of child support has continuing jurisdiction over the ex-spouses and their children regarding such matters as child custody and child support payments. A party who wants to modify the terms of an existing order must present a motion to the court that has jurisdiction. The motion is a written request specifying the changes in the order that the moving party (the party making the motion) wants the court to make. The petition must specify the requested relief and the reasons why it should be ordered. The motion must demonstrate that the couple or the child have experienced material, unexpected and substantially changed circumstances.
Factors governing the court’s decision
Once the minimum requirements have been met, the court must determine what outcome will serve the best interests of the child. The statute enumerates the factors that govern this determination:
- The demonstrated capacity of the parents to encourage a close relationship with the child
- How the parents intend to divide parenting responsibilities after the motion is ruled upon
- The demonstrated ability of each parent to consider the interests of the child
- Whether the child has lived in a stable environment
- The geographic viability of the modification; in other words, are the parents’ expectations reasonable
- The moral fitness of each parent
- The mental and physical health of each parent
- The willingness and ability of each parent to be attuned to the child’s situation, including school, neighborhood friends
- Any evidence of domestic violence or sexual abuse
- How the parents intend to divide their parenting tasks after the motion is decided
The foregoing list of factors is not complete, but the remaining items are closely related to the factors that are summarized above.
Anyone considering bringing a motion to amend an existing child custody or support order may benefit from a consultation with an experienced child custody attorney. A capable attorney can provide a helpful evaluation of the evidence and assist in presenting the motion to the court.