There are two types of child custody orders – temporary child custody orders and permanent child custody orders. Both orders are enforceable by the court and set out how custody of a child is allocated between the parents (or non-parents, if the parents do not have custody). The “temporary” and “permanent” labels associated with each order are somewhat misleading because custody orders are never really “permanent.” Custody orders are always modifiable based upon a substantial change in circumstances.
Temporary Child Custody Order
Since the legal process when parties separate can be drawn out over a number of months, temporary child custody orders are often useful as a placeholder to delineate how parents will handle shared parenting duties and physical custody while the custody lawsuit is pending. The court can grant these temporary orders at its discretion, and the terms are legally binding. While the orders are intended to be temporary, there is no requirement that they provide a specific end date at which point they will expire or lose their effect. Temporary orders are superseded and replaced by a permanent custody order at a later date when the issues are finally resolved.
However, a temporary child custody order can convert into a permanent child custody order if neither party seeks a permanent order within a “reasonable” amount of time after the court enters the temporary order. Additionally, the temporary child custody order can end up having a long-lasting impact if the court decides to use it as a template or framework for establishing the parental rights and responsibilities ultimately granted in the permanent order.
Permanent Child Custody Order
Once entered, permanent child custody orders supersede and replace any preexisting temporary custody order. The significant difference between temporary and permanent orders is that temporary custody orders may be modified at any time without finding there has been a substantial change in circumstances. On the other hand, permanent child custody orders may only be modified if the court determines that there has been a substantial change in circumstances affecting the minor child’s welfare since the order was entered. The court has significant discretion to determine what constitutes a substantial change in circumstances. Usually, there must be a showing of major change that impacts the child. And, the evidence must show that the substantial change in circumstances affects the best interest of the child so as to make modification of custody necessary. As a result, permanent child custody orders are much more difficult to modify than temporary orders even though they are never truly “permanent.”