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When Should Courts Dismiss Child Custody Modification Requests without a Hearing?

May 13, 2018

When it comes to divorce and family law, there are a lot of issues involving divorce and child custody, and many of these issues have their own set of unique features that factor into the case.

One example of this is child support. The amount of child support that should be paid, and if it should be paid at all, is chosen by a specific formula. However, that formula isn’t correct or possible for every couple. Ultimately, the final decisions regarding child support will be based not just on the formula, but also the specific and unique circumstances of the parents who are involved (such as who earns more and how much the higher earner earns, as well as who the child will be living with most of the time).

Making Decisions in the Best Interest of the Child

In New York State, any divorce or family law proceedings that involve a child have one primary goal: to make the choices that are in the child’s best interest. This means that the child or children involved are at the forefront of the court’s consideration, particularly when it comes to custody and parenting decisions. Regarding child custody, New York courts are tasked with deciding how the child’s future and development will be impacted, and to make the decision that has the most positive impact on the child.

It’s important to realize that a child’s needs will change as they grow, and that each parent’s situation can change drastically over time as well. Even though a custody decision is technically called “permanent,” it can actually change eventually, based on the specific circumstances. A custody agreement may be modified if one of the parents violates the court orders or if one or both of the child’s parents have a significant change in their circumstances (like one loses their job and can no longer afford their home, for example).

What is in the best interest of the child can change as the elements of the child’s life change – what was once in their best interest may no longer be the best option. If this happens, the court may modify the custody agreement. Things like child abuse, conviction of a felony or drug use may be considered substantial and material change. Sometimes, it’s not the parent or home life that changes, but the specific needs of the child, due to something like medical attention or a different type of schooling. However, modifications can only occur if the change was not evident during the time the original custody order was granted. Also, in order for the custody order to be modified, there has to be evidence to support that changing the order is in the best interest of the child.

Proving That There’s Been a Significant Change in Circumstances

A parent cannot simply say that circumstances have changed and then get a child custody modification or even a hearing. They have to first show enough evidence that shows the court a hearing is necessary. The court needs to know that there’s a solid reason to reexamine the case. Hearsay or claims that are not backed up by anything will not be enough to get a hearing. Only once there’s enough evidence to show the court that a reexamination is necessary will the court begin considering what is in the child’s best interest.

In order for the court to modify the custody agreement, the child’s situation must have changed drastically from when the court order was initially created, and those changes have to be shown to no longer be in the child’s best interest. The changes have to negatively impact the health, safety or welfare of the child, and there has to be evidence to prove this.

Dismissing a Custody Request With No Hearing

The Second Judicial Department, which is in charge of Queens and Long Island, plus additional areas, dismissed a custody request in 2014. The court felt that there wasn’t any evidence to show that a significant and materials change had occurred that would support a change in what was in the child’s best interest. Stating that circumstances have changed is not enough; there has to be proof to back up those allegations. An alleged change is not the same as a material change, and can not be considered a good enough reason to modify a child custody agreement.

Need for Proving a Material Change in Circumstances

It’s crucial to understand that you will not be granted a hearing for a child custody agreement modification if there are not material reasons for needing the hearing. This rule isn’t present to put children at harm, but instead to avoid wasting time and resources on cases that do not have the required evidence. The court does not want to change any type of child custody agreement that is working well, which is why they need to see a lot of evidence that a change is necessary. The guideline prevents a child’s parents from making requests to change the agreement that are not in the child’s best interest.

It’s not healthy for a child’s routine to be disrupted, and if changes were made based on hearsay, this could negatively impact a child’s experience at home or school, and have disruptions to their life overall. Additionally, if a hearing were to be held, the child might be questioned or scrutinized, which should only happen in cases where it’s absolutely necessary.

Help With Child Custody Modifications

If you think that you have a case for getting a child custody agreement modified, speak with our Long Island divorce lawyers. We’ll help you determine if you have good reason for requesting a hearing, and we’ll direct you regarding the type of evidence you’ll need to show the court. It’s important to only move forward if you have the necessary proof. If you don’t provide the correct evidence, it’s possible you won’t be taken seriously should you have to go to court in the future.

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