Can You Modify Legal Custody?

divorce lawyer laura langenburgQuestion:

My ex-wife demanded she received full legal custody before she would sign off on our divorce that was completed almost a year ago.

Now I realize how important having legal custody is, so is there any way I can petition the court to modify the legal custody provision to at least give me joint legal custody?


I am unable to give you legal advice on divorce. I can give general divorce help for men, though, my knowledge is based on Michigan divorce and child custody laws where I am licensed to practice.

In general, in order to modify custody you must show some sort of change of circumstance has occurred or proper cause has been provided that necessitates that the court revisit the issue of custody and (in most cases) parenting time.

A change in circumstance means something more than the normal changes in a child’s environment, behavior and well-being. You would have to show that there is something more than the normal life changes of a child and provide some evidence that these changes have had or will have a material effect on the child.

This has to be something more than the normal day-to-day changes that a child will face as they mature and grow older. These changes are not typically provided by a court as a specific list but rather how the change affects the child.

Examples of changes of circumstance that can necessitate a change in custody review are the moving of a parent substantially and/or closer to the children, the inability of a parent to care for the child due to health and/or addiction reasons, neglect by the custodial parent, the presence of a third party in the home that has a deleterious effect on the child(ren.)

The most concerning part of your question is your statement that your ex-wife has “full legal custody.” In general, the courts define custody as “physical” and “legal” custody.

Physical custody is generally where the child(ren) reside, whereas “legal” custody provides the rights and powers to make necessary decisions for the child(ren) such as medical care, religious upbringing, school choices and other decisions that become necessary to raise the child(ren.) Full legal custody can also make it easier for a custodial parent to move the child(ren) out of state, or further away from their residence at the time  of the Judgment of Divorce.

If your ex-spouse has full legal custody, she has the sole power to make these decisions for your children without your input or control. The ability to make these decisions for your child(ren) are very important and steps should be taken to get this custodial provisions restored.

You indicate that your divorce judgment is nearly a year old. There may be a way, pursuant to your local court rules, to petition the court to modify the judgment in this first year. This avenue would depend on your court rules, and if the facts of your case would support such a petition to the court.

Remember, I am unable to provide you with anything more than divorce tips for men, so please consult with a divorce lawyer in your jurisdiction.

To arrange an initial consultation to discuss divorce rights for men with a Cordell & Cordell attorney, including Ann Arbor Divorce Lawyer Laura D. Langenburg, contact Cordell & Cordell.

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