The pandemic has brought tragedy and economic upheaval to most of the world. The U.S. has seen nothing comparable in decades – seemingly overnight, the U.S. economy went from boom to bust.
Record low unemployment of 3.8% in February reached 13.0% in May as 14.3 million Americans lost their jobs due to widespread shutdowns meant to slow the spread of COVID.
And even as the economy began to reopen, many businesses have closed permanently (for example, to date nearly 17% of restaurants across the country have gone out of business), and many other companies have downsized or changed full-time positions to part-time.
Countless employees have shifted to working from home, and schools have adjusted to remote learning models.
To put things simply: Circumstances have changed. For everyone.
And the impact of those changes has rocked many families, including families who have experienced a divorce.
In many cases, custody plans that had worked smoothly became unworkable nearly overnight.
Of course, even in a non-pandemic world custody plans require modification, but Covid-19 has only increased the need to update Missouri custody agreements.
What Circumstances Qualify For A Custody Plan Modification?
In most cases, courts will only order a custody plan modification if a family can prove a major change in circumstances since the original custody agreement went into effect.
These changes can include:
A change in a parent’s ability to care for a child or children
A recent example of such a change would be a case in which a child’s school was forced to employ stay-at-home virtual learning and a parent’s job meant they could not be in the home to care for the child.
A long-distance move
With the economic upheaval brought by the pandemic, unemployed workers have in some cases found new jobs either out-of-state or great distances from home. These situations can make being in town and home to care for children extremely difficult or impossible.
Permanent or extended changes to a parent’s work schedule
Parents who have lost their jobs may find themselves with little choice but to accept a position with a different work schedule, and that may be incompatible with the existing custody plan.
Changes in a child’s needs
As children age, their needs may change. For example, a child attending private schools (many of which have continued with in-classroom education) may have graduated from a nearby elementary school and moved onto a high school far from home. That long drive twice a day may not work for one of the parents, especially if that parent’s work situation has changed.
Finally, courts may also order a modification if parents prove the current custody plan no longer meets the child’s needs. And in some states, children as young as 14 can select which parent she or he wishes to live with.
In Missouri, children can choose at age 18, although courts do take a child’s wishes into consideration prior to ordering a custody plan.
Proving A Need For Custody Plan Modification
Parents seeking a custody plan modification must present the court with evidence proving the need exists. This proof can include:
- Documents outlining a parent’s new work schedule, location or responsibilities which would affect the parent’s ability to care for the child/children
- A custody journal including information – times, dates, etc. – about custody or scheduling conflicts
- Parenting time logs showing how much time each parent spent caring for their child
- E-mails, texts, social media communications and other informal records documenting issues with the existing custody plan
- Statements from teachers, caregivers, supervisors, doctors and other witnesses
- Official medical, work, school or police records documenting custody issues
- Records showing police were called to enforce a custody order
Providing as much evidence as possible that shows the existing custody plan is no longer viable or working in the best interest of the child is essential to convincing the court to order a modification.
Working As A Team Can Be Invaluable
Parents should feel encouraged to work together and agree on minor variations from a custody order.
For example, moving a pick-up or drop-off time by a few hours or trading a day with the child to accommodate new work schedules may not require a court-ordered modification.
Also, parents who seek a court-ordered modification are more likely to be granted that modification if they go to the court in agreement that the modification is in the best interests of the child.
Parents who cannot reach an agreement may be referred to mediation to develop an agreement that is acceptable to both parties.
If they cannot reach an agreement, then a hearing will usually be held with a judge ultimately granting one parent’s modification request, deciding on another modification or declining to modify the custody order if there is insufficient evidence to support a change.
Of course, if one parent accuses the other of abuse or claims a child is in danger with the other parent, the court may order an evaluation or expedite the scheduling of the hearing.
It’s important for parents to understand that given the pandemic, many courts are dealing with a significant backlog of cases and may face a lengthy wait for a hearing.
Call Marler Law Partners For A Free Missouri Custody Plan Consultation
Custody disputes can be extremely stressful – especially for children – as parents often experience a wide range of conflicting emotions.
Understanding the law and the courts and working in the best interests of the children involved is absolutely crucial.
Reaching out to an experienced, knowledgeable family law attorney during these times is likely your best decision.
Contact the trusted attorneys at Marler Law Partners for a free consultation to review your custody plan today.