Sometimes, a child custody arrangement that worked well in the first years after divorce no longer makes sense. Perhaps family circumstances have changed or children have different needs in their teen years.

Whatever the reason, review the process of requesting a child custody modification in Texas.

When and where to file a modification request

Either parent, or another person named in the original custody order such as a guardian, can ask for custody modification. You must wait at least a year from the initial custody determination unless:

  • Both parents agree to the change.
  • Someone other than the person with primary custody has been the child’s primary caregiver for at least six months, unless the primary parent is on active military deployment.
  • The child’s current environment puts him or her in emotional or physical harm.

You should file in the county that originally issued your custody order. However, if your child now lives in a different county, you can file your Petition to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship along with a Motion to Transfer your case to the new county. If your child no longer lives in Texas, you may have to file in his or her new home state.

Standards for modification decisions

When both parents agree on a change in custody, the court will update your custody order to reflect the new arrangement. When parents do not agree, the parent who is requesting a change in custody must provide evidence that the proposed modification serves the child’s leading interests. In addition, one of the following must apply:

  • Someone other than the person with primary custody has been the child’s primary caregiver for at least six months, unless the primary parent is on active military deployment.
  • The child is age 12 or older and testifies to his or her wishes about a custody change.
  • Circumstances have materially and substantially changed since the initial custody order.

The decision about what constitutes a material and substantial change in circumstances is at the judge’s discretion. However, Texas law specifically indicates family violence and child abuse as reasons for a custody modification.