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Modifying Child Custody Orders

MotherDaughter-191x200When a divorce involves children, the North Carolina court system may have to help the parents determine how the children will spend their time between the two parents.  In an earlier post, we briefly discussed child custody orders and explained that they were somewhat of a last resort in instances where the parents themselves could not agree on a custody arrangement.

After a custody order is set into place, it is usually in the best interests of everybody involved to abide by the order. However, custody orders are not set in stone. The courts can revisit them. Therefore, sometimes, one party will seek to modify a prior custody order.

The Law

According to North Carolina law, and as reaffirmed in a recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case, Laprade v. Barry, in order to modify a court child custody order, the party that argues for modification must show that a substantial change of circumstances is affecting the welfare of the child at issue. This change does not have to be a negative or harmful change against the child—it must simply be a substantial change.

After analyzing the evidence, if the court determines that a substantial change has occurred or is occurring, the court must then determine whether it would be in the best interests of the child to modify the custody order. When it comes to child custody issues, the courts generally want to know whether a certain decision will or will not be in the best interests of the child. So, if a custody order modification is not in the best interests of the child, then the parents must continue to abide by the existing custody order.


In Laprade, the family had an existing custody order. The court gave primary physical care and custody to the father. The mother had secondary custody, and this was primarily because of actions she would take, such as repeatedly taking the child to the doctor alleging abuse from the father and reaching out to law enforcement with false claims.

In April of 2014, the mother argued that there was a substantial change of circumstances, pointing to things such as how the father’s girlfriend was the one primarily taking care of the child when it came time for the child to be with the father. After analyzing the evidence in the case, the court concluded that the circumstances had changed. For instance, the mother no longer took the child for unnecessary doctor visits and she no longer contacted law enforcement unnecessarily. Thus, in the court’s eyes, the mother’s circumstances changed for the better.

On the other hand, the father’s did not; they worsened. In fact, the court indicated that the father had poor communication habits with the mother, would not allow the child to talk to the mother in private while under his care, and refused to give the mother his girlfriend’s contact information even though the girlfriend substantially cared for the child.

Ultimately, according to the court, there was a substantial change of circumstances, and the best interests of the child would dictate to modify the custody order.

Your Child Custody Order

Going through a divorce can be tough. When children are involved, things might become harder. However, they do not have to be unbearable. We want to make sure that you get the custody arrangement that you deserve with your children. That is why we are here ready to help you through the process. Make sure to contact Powers Landreth PLLC in Charlotte today with your child custody needs.

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