If you are a divorced parent, your decree included instructions from the court about child custody arrangements. This court order is legally binding, and both parents must abide by its terms. But life can change, and it’s possible that one or both parents may decide the existing arrangements are no longer practical. So you may be wondering, “Can you change a custody order without going to court?” The short answer is “Yes.” But there’s much more to know, so let’s discuss it now.
Defining Child Custody and Conservatorship
First, a quick refresher. There are two parts to custody, physical and legal. Physical custody refers to who the children live with. Legal custody refers to having the right to be involved in making decisions about the children. This includes decisions about their health care, education, and well-being.
However, Texas courts do not use the term custody. Instead, they use the term conservatorship. If both parents share custody, it is called joint managing conservatorship. And if only one parent has custody, it is called sole managing conservatorship.
In a divorce case, it is likely your friends and family will use the term custody. But with your attorney and in court, you can expect to hear the term conservatorship.
How Easy Is It to Change a Custody Order Without Going to Court?
The good news is, it relatively easy to change a custody order without going to court—sometimes. The first step is to talk with your ex. If you both are in agreement on the change, you can get the custody order modified by working with a local mediator. The process can be completed in about X weeks, and you will need to pay a fee.
The second step is for the two of you to review your current custody order and make sure you fully understand it. While unlikely, it’s possible you won’t need to make any modifications to the order.
Third, you will need to be able to provide a compelling reason why you want the custody order changed.
What Are Some Reasons to Change a Custody Order?
As noted, Texas requires parents to have a compelling reason for wanting to change a custody order, even if you do not go to court. Usually, this means there has been a significant change of circumstances. Examples of a significant change include:
- A change in the work schedule of a parent
- One of the parents is being neglectful, unreliable, etc.
- The child or children wish to spend more time with the non-custodial parent
- One parent moves closer to the other
- One parent wishes to move away
Be aware that Texas courts make custody decisions based on what they think is in the best interests of the children. So you will want to be prepared to address this concern. But as noted, if you want to change a custody order without going to court, the key factor is whether you and the other parent agree on the modification.
You Can Change a Custody Order without Going to Court, But there are Risks
If you and your ex are on good terms, you may be tempted to work out a new custody arrangement entirely on your own. Clearly, this approach is both quick and much less expensive. But it also has pitfalls.
- First, it is alarmingly easy for one or both parents to take advantage of an informal agreement. This can create unnecessary and unfortunate tension for the two of you. For example, your former spouse might request to have the children stay with him or her for an extra day. But the “extra day” turns into extra days. Then you find that these “extra days” become a reoccurring pattern. And then you start considering getting even.
- Second, be aware that if your ex does violate the informal agreement, you have no legal recourse. Your only remedy is to go to court and request a court-ordered modification. Of course, at that point, your ex may not be as willing to agree to the original plan.
- Of course, the opposite holds true as well: Your spouse could go before a judge at any time, and you would have no way to prove to the court that the two of you had made an informal agreement.
If You Change a Custody Order without Going to Court, Be Sure to Do It Properly
This is why, even if you do not court, we strongly recommend you put your revised agreement in writing. The agreement should be easy to understand, and include provisions for custody, visitation, and child support.
For example, the new agreement might say, “This custody revision change does not affect the existing child support arrangements in any way.”
You can prepare this document without a lawyer, but as we noted above, there are risks. Therefore, we also highly recommend that you have an experienced divorce attorney write the document or at least review it. Down the road, this could save you a lot of heartache—and expense.
Last, you also will need to sign the custody order change in front of a notary public, who also will charge a fee.
Can You Change a Custody Order without Going to Court if Your Ex Is Opposed to It?
Simply put, no. If your ex does not want to change the custody arrangement, you will need to hire a lawyer. He or she will help you prepare the documents and present them to the court. As previously noted, this is where you will need to provide compelling evidence why the judge should modify the court order, and how it serves the best interests of the children.
Considering a Change to a Custody Order? Our Award-winning Law Firm Can Assist You
Child custody arrangements can be one of the most contentious parts of a divorce. Even if you and your ex are in agreement on the need for a modified custody order, it is wise to seek the input of an experienced divorce attorney. Sabelhaus + Lynch, PLLC, our Fort Worth divorce attorneys with more than 10 years of experience. They have successfully handled divorce cases, including issues of child custody and asset division. If you need help, contact our family law practice today to schedule a no-cost consultation with our top-rated attorneys.