Brandon Rusk

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Case Synopsis

Caselaw surrounding the circumstances under which a district court may modify the joint physical custody of minor children and a parent’s child-support obligations has been inconsistent in Nevada. In Rivero, for example, the Court relied on two tests to evaluate motions to modify a physical custody arrangement. Initially, Traux held that the test to modify joint physical custody arrangements was different from the test to modify primary physical custody. The initial test was based on NRS 125.510(2), which provided that a court may modify a joint physical custody arrangement when the movant can show that it is in the child’s best interest to do so. Thus, the Court initially concluded that a party does not need to show a change in the parent’s circumstances to modify a joint physical custody arrangement. Even when Traux was decided, the child’s best interest was the sole factor in determining physical custody, regardless of whether a party sought joint or primary custody.

However, the Court later observed that when a judge makes a decision on child custody, it should not be modified if the circumstances that were present when the decision was made remains in effect. As such, the Court modified the physical custody arrangement test. The Court held that requiring the movant to show a substantial change in circumstances affecting a child’s welfare “serves the important purpose of guaranteeing stability unless circumstances have changed to such an extent that a modification is appropriate.” Accordingly, a court may modify a joint or primary physical custody arrangement only when “(1) there has been a substantial change in circumstances affecting the welfare of the child, and (2) the child’s best interest is served by the modification.”