Circumstances often change after divorce. Individuals may change jobs, find opportunities in new cities or experience significant changes in their schedules and availability. A non-custodial parent may wish to seek modification if the custodial parent becomes ill, or the environment of the custodial parent’s home becomes unsafe. A parent may choose to relocate for a variety of reasons after divorce. Similarly, as children grow and develop, the opportunities potentially available or needs of the children may differ from what existed at the time of their parent’s divorce. Existing child custody orders may, at times, no longer properly reflect the current circumstances of the parents and children.

Even when significant changes arise, Connecticut law requires parents to obey the terms of an existing custody order, unless or until the order is reversed or modified in court. An intentional or willful violation of an existing order may serve as a basis for contempt.

Modifications Require Significant Changes In Circumstances

The parent seeking modification of a custody order must first show that a substantial change in circumstances has arisen since the issuance of the existing order. The purpose of a motion to modify is not to create a form of de facto appeal of the existing order or to retry facts that existed at the time of the order. The change must be significant and material to the well-being of the child. See, e.g., Daddio v O’Bara, 697 Conn.App 286, 904 A.2d 259 (2006).

There are no bright-line rules for determining whether a change warrants modification. Courts may consider whether a change was known or could have been anticipated when the prior order issued, or how the change in circumstances affects the child’s well-being. Clougherty v. Clougherty, 162 Conn.App. 857, 133 A.3d 886 (2016).

Change Alone Is Not Enough – Modifying An Order Must Serve The Child’s Best Interests

Once a change is shown to be material to the child’s well -being, the ultimate test in obtaining modification is whether modifying the order is in the best interests of the child. Connecticut law provides 16 statutory factors for courts to consider. However, courts are not limited to only considering the listed statutory factors. The court has broad discretion in determining the best interests of the child and is free to evaluate what is appropriate in the individual circumstances.

Modifying existing orders can be complex, especially if litigation is necessary. Sophisticated lawyers work hard to develop a comprehensive strategy to prepare and present evidence to support a finding that the change is material and that it serves the best interests of the child – under the individual facts of the case. A cohesive plan, aimed at the best outcome in modifying a court order, can provide strength in negotiations, in mediation or in court.