The U.S. Census Bureau says that individual Americans move an average of 11.7 times in their adult lifetimes, and the vast majority of these relocations occur between ages 18 and 50. Virtually any relocation, whether it be to the other side of town or the other side of the country, often makes the most well-thought-out custody plan almost completely unworkable.
Further complicating matters, many noncustodial parents enter into “side agreements” with the custodial parents by informally swapping weekends to accommodate a changed work schedule or moving the pickup and dropoff point to a more convenient location. These agreements, even if they are written, may be unenforceable in family court. Almost inevitably, a parent will decide to abandon weeks or months of recent precedent to “go back to the way it was,” and the other parent, who has often made life changes to reflect the side agreement, has no recourse whatsoever.
Fortunately, there is an expedited process for such modifications in North Carolina. There are a few stipulations. The agreement must:
- Be based on a rather longstanding practice – spur-of-the-moment pacts are less likely to be approved.
- Normally be signed and in writing on a single sheet of paper – e-mail chains, especially if the correspondence is from different dates, are more difficult to formalize.
- Be in the best interests of the children, and the judge makes the final determination.
If the parents do not immediately agree, the party requesting a change must file a motion to modify. That motion must be based on a substantial change in circumstances affecting the well-being of the child – a phrase that the law does not really define. In practical terms, changed circumstances often mean:
- Change of Residence: These changes must be made in good faith and in the best interests of the children, and most moves meet these criterion. But, if the judge is convinced that the parent moved to make visitation more difficult or that the move will damage or harm the parental relationship with the noncustodial parent, the outcome will probably be different.
- Lifestyle Change: If a noncustodial parent stops drinking, increased visitation may be in order. Conversely, if a custodial parent begins drinking heavily, a change of custody may be in the children’s best interests.
In most cases, the movant has the burden of proof to show a substantial change in circumstances by a preponderance of the evidence.
Attorneys Who Hit the Ground Running
The moment you partner with Remington & Dixon, PLLC, our Charlotte professionals start working on your behalf, to ensure that you have a strong voice in whatever modification proceeding is needed. Call us today for a confidential consultation.
Jennifer is a founding partner at Remington & Dixon, PLLC. Jennifer concentrates her practice in the areas of family law, wills & estates, unemployment benefits appeals, and traffic. At Elon University School of Law, Jennifer was the vice president of the Public Interest Law Society and a member of the Family Law Society. During law school, Jennifer interned at the Elon University School of Law Field Placement Clinic with Legal Aid of North Carolina where she represented clients in domestic violence court proceedings.