Once a judgment of custody or visitation has entered, it can be modified by filing a complaint for modification. The court will modify custody only upon a finding of a substantial change in circumstances of the parents or of the child and that the modification is in the child’s best interest. G.L. c. 209C, § 20.
The law requires a substantial change to trigger a modification request because it presumes stability in living arrangements to be in a child’s best interest. Changes in employment, residence, health, income, or living arrangements alone usually are not sufficient bases for a change in custody. By contrast, a substantial change in circumstances might exist because one parent plans to move a significant distance, visitation exposes the child or the custodial parent to harm or the custodial parent is not taking adequate care of the child.
If the court finds that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred, the court will consider the change’s impact on the child. If the impact is adverse, the requested modification still must be necessary to the child’s welfare to be granted.
In most cases, if the child has been living with one parent for some time, the child’s needs are being adequately met under that parent’s care, and that parent is capable of continuing to care for the child, it is not in the child’s best interest to disrupt that successful arrangement. Rather, it is in the child’s best interests to preserve it. Belief that the other parent might be a little better in some areas ought not suffice to disrupt a child’s satisfactory home life with the caretaker parent.