Asking for a modification to a custody agreement — when you don’t have the agreement of your ex-spouse — is a very big deal. The court generally hates to make changes to an existing agreement without a good reason.

If you’re headed into court with a modification request, there are some basic questions you need to be prepared to answer in a very specific manner. There’s often a big difference between the questions you’re asked and what the judge really wants to know.

Question one:

What the judge asks: “Why do you want this move?” What the judge really means: “How will this move benefit your child?”

These are two vastly different questions and if you don’t realize what the judge is really asking you here, you could answer in a way that sinks your chance of gaining approval.

For example, if you’re asking the judge to allow you to relocate out of town with your child — a move that will drastically affect your ex-spouse’s visitation — you may be tempted to reply, “I want to move so that I can go to school and pursue my dream of being a nurse.” Unfortunately, that’s telling the judge how the move will benefit you — not your child.

If you think about what the judge is really asking, you can re-frame your answer to something like, “I want to move so that I can go to college and obtain my nursing degree. This will improve the standard of living for my child and allow me to provide him or her with more opportunities in life.”

Question two:

What the judge asks: “What prompted you to ask for a change?” What the judge really wants to know: “Are you doing this to get back at your ex-spouse or for another selfish reason?”

Again, frame your answer around how issues affect your child — not you. For example, don’t say, “It’s too hard to move my child back and forth every week and my ex is impossible to work with.” Instead, say, “My child’s needs are changing. He or she needs more stability during the school year to keep from falling behind in class.”

Ultimately, no matter what modification you hope to make to your custody agreement, keep the focus on your child’s needs as you approach the court. That’s the best method to gain the court’s approval.