How to Respond to a Request for a Child Visitation Modification

When you receive a petition for a child visitation modification, it is imperative you respond according to the instructions contained within the petition. In many states, there are specific forms you must respond with. Those forms must generally be returned both to the parent who sent the petition for change, and also to the court in the district where you and the child reside. Failure to respond could result in you losing the right to contest the change to the agreement.

When a Child Visitation Modification May be Granted

Each state has somewhat different rules regarding how to respond to a petition to modify a custody agreement. Each state also has different rules for when and why a custody agreement may be modified:

  • Some states will not permit a change in an agreement for a set period of time after the agreement is made, unless the court believes there is a compelling reason to make a modification. For example, the state of Illinois mandates that a change not be made within 2 years of the original agreement unless there is a reason to believe the child’s physical, mental, emotional or moral health is being endangered.
  • Regardless of when the petition for change is made, the court will generally look at whether there has been a material change in circumstances. If something has changed in a substantial and material way, such as one parent wishing to move out of state, or one parent making lifestyle choices that no longer make him or her an appropriate caregiver, then a petition for change may be granted.
  • The court will consider whether the current arrangement is working and how the child is coping within the agreement that is in place. The court will also consider if there have been any other changes to the living situation of either parent that change their original calculation as to the best interests of the child.

However, in any case, the court will consider whether it is in the best interests of the child to make the child visitation modification.

The Best Interests of the Child

To determine whether a child visitation modification is in the best interests of the child, the court will look at several key factors:

  • If one parent is continually withholding the visitation rights of the other, if the child is being alienated from his other parent because of consistent badmouthing of that parent (called parental alienation), or if one parent is otherwise doing something that harms the child or the child’s relationship with the other parent, the court may consider a child visitation modification to be necessary.
  • If the living arrangement or environment of either parent has changed, either for better or worse, the court may make a child visitation modification. For example, if the non-custodial parent had originally been granted limited visitation rights because s/he was unable to prove a stable home, the court may consider positive changes that s/he has made and grant greater visitation rights. On the other hand, if the custodial parent has done something to make a child’s environment less stable, or if the custodial parent can no longer provide financial or emotional support to the child, then this can also indicate a change is in order.

What You Can Do to Stop a Child Visitation Modification

To stop the child visitation modification from being made after you receive notification of a petition for change, the first step is to respond to the change using the forms required by your state. If you are unsure what forms you need to file, call the court clerk of the local court that initially set the visitation schedule for information. Often, the other parent is required to send you the forms that you need to return when you are given a copy of that parent's request for the child visitation modification. Check the papers you were given or sent by the other parent for forms and instructions right away. 

A hearing is typically scheduled after the forms are submitted. At this hearing, you will need to make arguments to the judge as to why the modification is not appropriate or why there has been no material change in circumstances that would warrant the change. The other side may also make arguments and the court will make a determination as to whether a change is in order.

Getting Help

When you receive notification of a request for a child visitation modification, the very first thing you should do is call a lawyer. Your attorney can help you to understand how best to proceed, and can assist you in gathering the information and evidence necessary to show that modification is not appropriate in light of your circumstances.