With life, comes changes, moves, and financial challenges, but what types of circumstances will allow you to modify your custody or parenting time arrangement? Many parents think that custody and parenting time can be modified whenever the circumstances become inconvenient or because a child expresses a preference to spend more time with one parent over the other. Custody and parenting time will not be modified unless proper cause or a change of circumstances exists, however. What constitutes proper cause and a change in circumstances depend on whether the requested change alters the established custodial environment (ECE).
Changes That Alter an ECE
As mentioned in our previous blog regarding initial custody determinations, an established custodial environment exists when a child looks to one or both parents for love, guidance, affection, food, housing, and other needs. If a proposed modification will alter an ECE, there must be a significant change in circumstances or proper cause (or both) in order to make a modification. Essentially, there must be something more than normal life changes, such as a child’s desire to participate in additional extracurricular activities, the desires of a child as he or she grows older, or financial problems of one of the parents.
Furthermore, the proper cause or a change in circumstances must have occurred since the entry of the court’s previous custody order. The parent requesting the modification bears the burden of proving that proper cause or a change of circumstances exists. This burden is heavier when the requested modification will modify an ECE. This is because the parent requesting the modification will have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that proper cause or a change of circumstances exists, which is a more stringent evidentiary standard. Examples of things that may constitute proper cause or a change of circumstances in this situation are a parent abusing alcohol or drugs, a parent neglecting a child, or a parent abusing a child.
Changes That Do Not Alter an ECE
Requests for changes that do not alter the ECE are held to a less stringent standard. The parent seeking modification will still have to show proper cause or a change of circumstances, but he or she will only have to prove that proper cause or a change of circumstances exists by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a less stringent evidentiary standard to meet than clear and convincing evidence. When the modification will not alter the ECE, things such as normal life changes may constitute proper cause or a change of circumstances. A few examples include a child wanting to participate in more activities that will cut into the other parent’s parenting time, a parent’s work schedule changing, or a child’s school routine changing.
Keep in mind that modifications of custody and parenting time require a highly fact-intensive analysis. Each case is different depending on the facts surrounding the proper cause or a change of circumstances. What may constitute proper cause or a change of circumstances in one case may not always constitute proper cause or a change of circumstances in another.
Our attorneys at Grewal Law PLLC can assist you in determining if your circumstances warrant a modification to your custody or parenting time arrangement. We have guided countless Michigan parents through difficult family law matters, and we are fully prepared to help you. Call us today at (888) 211-5798 or submit an online contact form to begin.