Modifying Child Custody Agreements: For Safety’s Sake

Final Judgement, Not Final Word

In awarding custody, the goal of a family court, above all, is the safety and wellbeing of the child or children involved. One of these factors is consistency, so courts will be hesitant to change what is called a “final” custody order. While it is possible for later modifications to be made, unless both parents agree to the changes, this is a protracted process.

One exception is when there is a real and imminent threat of harm to a child.

Defining Harm

In Massachusetts, child abuse is defined as a parent or other caretaker either causing physical harm to a child or putting the child in reasonable fear of being harmed. A collection of these incidents, called “a pattern of abuse” in the law can be grounds for modifying custody arrangements and other protective actions, such as mandating supervised visitation between the parent and the child.

While physical abuse requires a pattern, the law does recognize a single occurrence of a “serious incident of abuse” to be enough to require protective action such as giving sole custody to the other parent, if only on a temporary basis. The law defines a “serious incident abuse” as causing serious bodily injury or the fear of receiving serious bodily injury, along with any sort of sexual abuse, meaning forced sexual contact.

Aside from child abuse, reckless behavior that could endanger a child, such as drunk driving, can also be grounds for revoking custody or unsupervised visitation.

What to Do

If you have reason to believe your child is at risk of harm with the other parent, you should immediately file for a change to the custody order:

  • When a custody order is final, you must file a Complaint for Modification and a Motion to Modify Custody Order
  • If a custody order is temporary but needs to change immediately to protect your child, you must file a Motion to Modify Temporary Custody Order

If you believe your child is at immediate, imminent risk of harm and is presently in the custody of the other parent, or you believe a crime has occurred, call the police.

We understand that these are difficult, emotional times for a concerned parent and that the legal system, stressful and complex on a good day, can seem overwhelming when you need a clear head the most. We can help you in filing all necessary plaints and motions, along with their supporting documentation. Like you, we want your children to be safe and healthy.

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