How to Get Full Custody of Children After a Divorce

By Beverly Bird

Nothing is forever, not even the terms of a divorce decree. If the custody arrangement in your decree no longer works after your divorce is final, you can ask the court to change it. You’ll need a very good reason, however, and you should be specific about what you’re asking for. Most states refer to "full" custody as “sole” custody. Asking for sole physical custody means you want your children to live with you the majority of the time. It does not mean that their other parent won’t see them at all.

Step 1

Check your state’s laws regarding changes to a custody order. Some states require that, absent an extreme emergency, a certain amount of time must pass after the court signs your decree before you can ask to modify it. Judges value stability for children, so they frown upon frequent custody changes. Most states also require a “material change of circumstance” before they’ll alter custody terms.

Step 2

Document whatever circumstance has changed to warrant a modification of your custody arrangement. Your case may hinge on proving the material change of circumstance to the court, so take your time and be thorough. Acceptable circumstances for making a change include your children’s other parent developing a drug or alcohol addiction that puts them at risk while in her care, or introducing someone new into her household, such as a new spouse or roommate who is abusive toward them. Gather as much physical proof as possible that these developments have occurred. The court won’t take your word for it.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Step 3

Visit the courthouse where you received your divorce. Speak with the court clerk and ask for the appropriate forms to file a motion for modifying custody. Some states call these “post-judgment” motions and others call them “motions for modification.” These form packets usually include the motion itself, which you would use to tell the court the changes you want to make, and an affidavit or certification, which you would use to explain your reasons.

Step 4

Complete your motion and affidavit. Make copies of the documenting proof you’ve gathered regarding the change of circumstance, and attach it to the affidavit. Label each document as “Exhibit 1” or “Exhibit 2” so the judge who reviews your paperwork can easily find and refer to the documentation you’ve supplied.

Step 5

File your completed paperwork with the court clerk and ask about what rules your state has for serving a copy on your children’s other parent. Some states will allow you to do this by certified mail; others might require that your county sheriff deliver them.

Step 6

Attend the court hearing when the clerk notifies you of the date and time. Your mission is not just to demonstrate to the court that your children’s other parent should no longer have custody. You must also prove that your children would be better off with you. This means being factual and cool-headed when you orally present your case to the judge. Your ex-spouse will probably try to prove that you’re wrong, so hold on to your temper and emotions.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Can You Go Back to Court for Custody After You Gave Your Child to Your Spouse?

References

Related articles

How to Get Child Custody If a Parent Refuses to Sign the Papers

Because child custody disputes can be contentious and stressful, family courts encourage parents to settle their disputes on their own. This not only shields the child from the stress of a custody fight, but it also allows the parents the autonomy to work out a custody plan that works with both parents' schedules and the child's needs. When one parent refuses to sign a proposed parenting plan or settle a custody dispute, however, you will need to use the court system to resolve your custody issues.

Filing for Child Custody in Maryland

When parents divorce, the court makes custody decisions and includes them in the final divorce decree. A Maryland court may award joint or sole physical custody, joint or sole legal custody, or some combination of both. Legal custody is the right to make important decisions about a child, such as where the child will go to school or church; physical custody represents which parent the child lives with and takes care of the child's day-to-day needs. If a court gives sole physical custody to one parent, it may also issue a visitation order to the non-custodial parent, allowing him to spend time with the child.

Divorce & Changes in Circumstance in Massachusetts

Ideally, if a significant change occurs in your life, it will happen while you are in mid-divorce, so your eventual decree can adequately address it. This isn't usually the case, and Massachusetts allows spouses to modify the terms of their decrees after divorce to accommodate changes. However, unless you and your spouse agree to a modification by consent, Massachusetts judges require “substantial and material” changes in circumstance before they’ll issue a modification order. “Substantial” means the change must be big; “material” means it must directly relate to the provision you want to change.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Remarriage & Custody

Remarriage is usually not a reason for a change in custody unless other factors are involved. Parents naturally move on ...

How Can I Get Custody if My Ex-Wife Has Been Married Four Times?

Courts recognize a parent’s right to move on after divorce, so remarriage in itself is not usually a cause for custody ...

Can I Amend a Divorce Decree After Five Months in Wisconsin?

Your divorce decree may address issues like child support, child custody and spousal support, but the decree may become ...

My Ex-Wife Is Trying to Gain Custody of Our Children after Our Divorce Decree

Divorce decrees are not necessarily forever, especially regarding custody. Even when parents enter into a custody ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED