Modification of grandparent custody to Mother solely requires change in circumstances; best interest of child

Recent case: Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District - ED99303

Grandparents appeal from the judgment of the trial court modifying a 2009 custody order changing an arrangement of joint custody between grandparents and Mother to an award of sole legal and physical custody to Mother. Grandparents argue the trial court erred because: (1) it incorrectly applied a statute pertaining to third party custody rather than the change in circumstances standard and; (2) it incorrectly found a change in circumstances sufficient to warrant modification and that the modification was not in the best interests of the child.

Holding: AFFIRMED.

Modification of a child custody decree is governed by Section 452.410 which states, in relevant part, "the court shall not modify a prior custody decree unless . . . it finds, upon the basis of facts that have arisen since the prior decree or that were unknown to the court at the time of the prior decree, that a change has occurred in the circumstances of the child or his custodian and that the modification is necessary to serve the best interests of the child."

Pursuant to Section 452.410, modification from joint to sole custody requires a substantial change in circumstances since the original custody order, of either the child or the child's custodian, and modification must be in the best interests of the child. Because Mother and Grandparents had joint custody of Child pursuant to the 2009 order, Section 452.410 requires a substantial change in circumstances of Child, Grandparents, or Mother. Changes in employment and marital status are substantial changes that can support modification of a child custody order, and both occurred in this case.

The Court then looked to the best interests of the child. The trial court's modification places child with her biological mother in a two-parent household that will allow Mother and Child to spend more time together. Additionally, child's relationship with grandparents can continue as grandparents were awarded visitation on Monday through Thursday from 3:00pm until 7:00pm. There is insufficient evidence to suggest that this is not in the best interests of the child, and the judgment is affirmed.