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How to Modify Joint Custody of Kids and Be the Sole Custodian

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on July 22, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You currently share custody of your children, but maybe you'd like to change that. You'd prefer to be the sole custodian and want to know how to make that happen.

The general answer is that you will have to apply with the court that awarded joint custody, and you should probably prepare for some opposition. Let's consider here what kind of conditions or changed circumstances might justify a change in a custody arrangement and how to prepare to make your case for being the sole custodian.


Courts recognize that circumstances change after a divorce, so the initial custody arrangement may be modified if both parents agree to it or by petitioning for a change through the courts. If you are moving out of state, do not wait until after you go, hoping that you will fare better in a new location. You will be breaking the law and you won't get what you want. Instead, petition for a change within the jurisdiction that issued the original custody decree.

The Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act requires states to enforce the custody decrees of another state, except where that original state no longer has or declines jurisdiction. As the Act's name indicates, leaving a state without a modification can be charged as kidnapping and is likely to jeopardize your custody altogether.

Changed Circumstances

Courts will consider the fact that parents remarry and move to new locations, among other valid reasons for a custody modification. The change may also stem from some less positive development, and that is certainly still a basis for modification.

Say your ex has taken to drinking heavily or doing drugs and is endangering the children, or has a new partner that the kids hate, or conversely, has many partners, or is otherwise showing signs of emotional or physical instability -- these are all valid reasons to seek a modification of a custody arrangement. Be prepared to provide relevant evidence in support of your claims, whatever they may be.

Best Interests of the Child

Keep in mind that the courts must apply a single standard when it comes to kids, always asking what is in the best interests of the child. Society generally agrees that stability is good for children and that minimal disruption aids their healthy function. But of course the courts exist to serve families and not hurt them, and if what you seek really does seem to be in the best interests of the child, the court will likely grant a custody modification.

Consult With Counsel

If you are considering a custody modification, consult with counsel. Many family law attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to talk.

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