The Tall Texan, Billy Walker, crooned a major hit in 1964 called “Circumstances,” with this soppy, sweetly sad little lyric: “O! But the dreams this foolish heart romances, When two blue people were the victim of circumstances.” Though Walker was not a Virginian (the shame!), many a Virginia Dad has felt the hard heartache of changing circumstances affecting child custody.
Endangering Your Custody Arrangement
If you know Walker’s music, you know his only #1 song, Charlie’s Shoes, is, like a lot of country music, about wishing he was not with the woman he’s with.
In a family law firm, that’s a frequent refrain. Many Virginia men have been through legal woes involving women that reminded them “The greener grass that turned my head so swiftly did turn brown, ‘Cause every little dream I’ve built she’s always tearing down.”
One remnant of those broken dreams may be a beautiful child, a daughter or son who means the world to you. You might not be married; you might not even recall the child’s mother, but (congratulations!) you are the Dad. Through your highly skilled Virginia attorney, you struggled to win either sole or joint child custody. You proved to a judge your financial security, your strong ethics. Now, though, changing circumstances may endanger that custody.
What is a Material Change in Circumstance?
The status of your child custody can only be affected by a material change in your circumstances, one that puts your child at risk. In Virginia, a Circuit Court judge deciding child custody does so based on many factors outlined in the Code of Virginia. Among them are the financial conditions of both parents (married or unmarried), the willingness of each parent to maintain healthy relationships with extended family, and a sense of stability in the household.
These changes are considered “material” and can lead to a re-evaluation of the ongoing placement of your child with you:
- Your desire to move out of state and take your child with you
- Your sudden decline in health, mental well-being or employment due to alcohol, drug abuse, or criminal activity
- A sharp decline in earning power, brought on by unemployment, deliberate underemployment, or medical issue
If you won full physical custody of your child because you were a strong breadwinner, anything that drastically reduced the income numbers the court used in its assessment will be a material change.
If you won joint custody of your child because you and your ex-wife both show clean health histories, no indication of drug or alcohol abuse, and stable home lives, any hint of a change in those circumstances is a material change.
Be Proactive Always
Walker’s 1962 hit, Willie the Weeper,” is one of those “goes around, comes around” country songs where the singer ends up in the same spot as the sad little man he derides. When you suffer a change in circumstances that endangers your ability to continue child custody for your precious son or daughter, the worst thing you can do is hide the fact.
Instead, be proactive. Through your attorney, inform your ex-wife of your change in circumstances. You may be able to negotiate a temporary change in custody, with your ex-wife taking full custody for a time while you regain your financial footing or work your way out of an addiction.
Guess Things Happen That Way
Walker recorded a song called “Guess Things Happen That Way” and, again, he sounds exactly like a lot of Virginia Dads with a line like, “I don’t like it but I guess things happen that way.”
Sure, you may not like a change in circumstances, if the circumstances affect you. But what if it is your ex-wife who has the material change in circumstances? What if she wants to move out of state and take your child with her? What if she slips into drug or alcohol abuse? What if she loses her job?
Do not assume she will follow the same advice we gave you and reach out to let you, the child’s father, know.
When you and she meet to allow your child to go from one parent to another for visitation, ask polite but probing questions about her employment, financial health, plans for future moves, and so on. If you get even the hint that she has a material change in circumstances, contact your lawyer immediately.
Your attorney can petition the court for a change in child custody so you gain sole physical custody, if your attorney can demonstrate to the court’s satisfaction that your wife is unable to care for her child (for whatever reason). You can petition the court to prevent her taking the child out of state, too, which could be a violation of the terms of your divorce decree.
We’re Child Custody Attorneys for Fathers
Please call 757-383-9184 to speak with a family law attorney at The Firm For Men, or contact us online. We can help with child custody, parenting time schedules, and much more. We value the healthy relationships between Virginia’s men and their children. We work hard to preserve them. We think, had Billy Walker known us, his song “Lawyers” might have told a brighter story.