When an Indiana judge signs the final order in a divorce proceeding, most parties assume that the order is final. Life is uncertain however, and a person’s financial or living circumstances may change substantially after the proceeding has been completed. The existing child support and custody order may not suit the parents’ or the child’s needs. People in these circumstances often wonder whether the existing order can be modified. The answer is a qualified “yes.” The qualifications can be found in the Indiana statutes in the section called “Modification of child custody order.”
The person requesting a modification to the existing order must bring a written motion before the court having jurisdiction over the divorce. That judge usually sits in the county where the divorce proceeding occurred. The motion must state that the requested modification is in the best interests of the child and that there has been a substantial change in the circumstances affecting the child. The court is authorized to consider a number of factors in making this decision, including:
- The age and gender of the child
- The wishes of the child’s parents as expressed in their filings with the court
- The wishes of the child, with more weight given to those wishes if the child is older than 14
- The child relationships with each parent, with their siblings and others who may affect the child’s best interests
- The child’s relationships to their home, school and community
- The mental and physical health of all persons involved
- Any domestic or family abuse by either parent
The court is not permitted to hear any evidence from the period between the previous custody proceeding unless the evidence concerns a change in the factors relating to the best interests of the child.
The parent bringing such a motion should be prepared to present extensive and persuasive evidence that proves (or disproves) the existence of substantially changed circumstances. An experienced family law attorney can provide significant assistance in assembling and presenting such evidence. In addition, just because you may petition the Court to modify, does not mean that you have to end up in Court to obtain a modification. An experienced family law attorney can help you negotiate an out of court resolution, that is often times, better than what you may obtain in Court, and certainly much less costly.