A "final" child custody order may be signed by a court in Utah but that does not mean it cannot be changed. The law recognizes that sometimes there is a need to change an existing child custody order, whether or not it is a "final" court order. A parent's health could change. A parent could move out-of-state or a parent may develop a substance abuse problem that could require a change in custody. Just as life can cause changes in a family, so can life create the need to change a child custody order -- fortunately, the law, in some circumstances, permits change.
Circumstances That Merit a Modification
First of all, if you and your former spouse agree to deviate from your existing child custody (and parent-time) order -- even on a temporary basis -- it is important that that agreement be in writing. If the agreed deviation is of a significant and permanent nature, it is best to formally request that the court modify the existing order.
A modification to the existing order may not be achieved with your former spouse's agreement; however, a modification may still be in the best interest of the child(ren) and that modification can be requested from the court. A substance abuse problem is a common reason to modify a child custody order; however, other circumstances could also warrant a change. So, what does a parent have to prove in order for a court to modify a child custody order? The law outlines this in Utah Code Section 30-3-10.4:
1) A material and substantial change of circumstance has occurred; and
2) A modification of the terms and conditions of the order would be an improvement for and in the best interest of the child."
While a person may represent himself or herself in court, a parent seeking to modify a child custody order is well-advised to retain the services of an experienced family law attorney.