Why going to court to modify custody or support is so important

Court orders are a key component of divorce. A Virginia family judge will enter an order determining how to split up a couple’s property. If they share children, there will also be a custody order. In scenarios where one spouse has more assets or earning potential than the other, there could be a support order, as is the case with divorces involving minor children.

Property division orders usually don’t receive any attention or revisions after divorce. The rare exception to this rule includes someone discovering hidden assets after the end of a divorce. However, custody and support orders can and arguably should change to reflect a family’s needs.

When your situation changes, your custody order or support order may no longer be appropriate for your family. The best way to handle such a situation is to request a modification hearing and have the courts officially change your custody or support order. 

You can informally agree to anything, but the order remains enforceable

Some people don’t want to go back to court after a litigated divorce, so they might consider trying to make arrangements directly with their ex instead of asking for a modification. In theory, you could agree to change custody arrangements or even shift how much child support one parent pays the other.

However, informal agreements are dependent on the goodwill between spouses. As long as the original order remains unchanged, there is the risk of one parent choosing to weaponize the informal agreement against the other.

They could call and claim that their ex has not shown up for visitation or engaged in parental kidnapping despite a verbal agreement to change the division of parenting time. A parent who agreed to spend more child support to help cover additional costs for the children might suddenly stop sending extra, while a spouse who agrees to lower payments because the paying spouse has lost their job could ask for enforcement despite verbally agreeing to the lower amount.

Modifications give you protection in the form of an updated court order

Whether you need more child support or can’t show up for your current ordered parenting time, a modification protects you from inappropriate enforcement actions. It also officially notifies the courts of the change in your circumstances.

As with a divorce filing, you and your ex could agree to terms and file for an uncontested modification, or you could disagree and have contested proceedings. The courts will look at your circumstances and once again focus on the best interest of the children and the financial factors that influence spousal support when deciding what changes, if any, to make. Asking for a modification can protect you, your finances and even the relationship with your children.