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Changing a Custody, Visitation or Child Support Order

Child Custody & Visitation

This article answers frequently asked questions about changing an existing custody, visitation, child support, medical support, or dental support order. 

Here, learn the basics about changing existing orders for custody, visitation, child support, or medical support in Texas. Find out what you must show the court. Learn who can file a modification case and what to do if the case is contested. 

How do I change an existing order for custody, visitation, child support, or medical support?

You can ask a judge to change a custody, visitation, child support, or medical support order. You must file a petition to modify in the court that has jurisdiction over your child. 

Can I change a court order without going to court? 

No. Once you have a court order, only a judge can change it. 

Will the judge change my court order? 

It depends. If you are asking for changes in the order, you must provide evidence that meets the required legal standard. You can find more information about specific legal standards in our articles on Changing a Child Support Order or Changing a Custody or Visitation Order

Can I stop following the existing order as soon as I file a modification case? 

No. The existing order remains in effect until a judge signs a new order. If you stop following the existing order, you could face penalties. It also will not help your modification case. Talk to a lawyer if you have questions about this.  

Can I use do-it-yourself forms to file a modification case? 

Yes. TexasLawHelp offers a guide for changing a custody, visitation or support order

This guide works best for uncontested or default modification cases. “Uncontested” means that you have reached an agreement with the other parent. A “default” happens when the other parent does not reply to the court paperwork. 

If your case is contested, you should consider seeking legal help. You can hire an attorney or apply to the Texas Attorney General Child Support Division for Help. 

Who can file a modification case?

Either parent may file to modify an existing order. If the current order names any other person as a party, they may also file a motion to modify. 

The Texas Attorney General Child Support Division can file to modify child support. To learn more about this process, visit Texas Attorney General: Frequently Asked Questions about Child Support Modifications

If you are not a party to the current order, you can file a petition to modify in limited circumstances. 

Modification If the Child Lives with You, or Has Lived with You

You might be able to file to modify a child support order if the child has lived with you. The child must have resided with you for at least six months. If the child does not live with you anymore, they must have moved out no more than 90 days before the date you file your motion. You must also be able to show one of the following: 

  •  You have had “actual care, control, and possession of the child” during the six-month time period, or 

  • The child and their parent or guardian lived with you, and the parent or guardian has died. 

Modification If You Are the Child’s Relative

A grandparent, great-grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew can file to modify if the child’s parents or guardians are deceased. 

Can the Attorney General help me change a court order?

Maybe. The Texas Attorney General Child Support Division will get involved in some child support cases. You can get more information on how to apply for the Attorney General’s help at their website.

Do I need a lawyer to help with my modification case? 

You do not have to have a lawyer to file a motion to modify. It is a good idea to talk to a lawyer before you file, though. The court system can be complicated. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and options. 

If you need help finding a lawyer, you can try the following resources: 

  • The Ask a Question feature lets you chat with a lawyer or law student online. 

Can I hire a lawyer just to give me advice? 

Yes. You can hire a family lawyer for “limited scope representation,” meaning that they only provide a few services for you. A lawyer that provides limited scope representation can do the following for you: 

  • Explain the court process to you; 

  • Give you advice about your case; 

  • Prepare court documents for your case; or 

  • Help you get ready for a court hearing. 

How much does it cost to file a modification case? 

You will probably have to pay a fee to the clerk when you file your modification case. State law sets the filing fee for this at $15. You might also have to serve the other parent with the court papers. The fees for this vary among counties. 

If you do not have enough money to pay the filing and service fees, you can ask the court to waive the costs. You must file a Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs. Read Court Fees & Fee Waivers or use the guide I cannot afford my court fees for more information. 

How long does a modification case take? 

It depends. The best outcome is that everyone agrees to the changes and signs the necessary paperwork. You can have a judge sign an agreed order, and the case is over quickly. You could finalize an agreed order within days, or a week or two at the longest. 

A contested modification case—where people do not agree about the changes you want to make—can take much longer. Courts have very busy dockets. Scheduling a court hearing can take weeks or even months. 

How and where do I file a modification case?

You are trying to change an existing court order. In most cases, you will file your motion to modify in the same court that issued that order. This applies even if you have moved to another county or state. 

The district or county clerk will take your filing. You will use the same cause number from the earlier case. 

The only way the case might move to a different court is if the child moves. You should still file in the same county as the existing order, but you might have to transfer the case to a new court. The court can transfer the case to another Texas county if the child has lived there for at least six months. 

If the child has moved out of the state, you should talk to a lawyer about where to file. You can use our Legal Help Directory to find low-cost legal help or a private attorney in your area. 

What if my order is from another state? 

A court’s jurisdiction to modify a child custody or child support order depends on where the child lives. Ask a family lawyer if a Texas court can change your out-of-state order. 

If you need help finding a lawyer, you can use our Legal Help Directory, Legal Events and Clinics, or Ask a Question features. 

Who is the “petitioner” in a modification case? 

The person asking for changes in the existing court order is the “petitioner.”

Even if you were the “respondent” in the original case, you are the “petitioner” if you file a petition to modify. 

Who must be listed as a “respondent” in a modification case? 

Anyone else who is a party to the case must be a “respondent” in the petition to modify. This includes the other parent most of the time. It could also include a guardian or the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division. 

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