Raising a child is a marathon, not a sprint. California child custody orders are not set in stone, and oftentimes, a custody arrangement that worked well for a family when a child was 5 years old may not work so well when he or she is 12. This article focuses on how to change a child custody order in California, whether by agreement, mediation, or court order.
How to Change A Child Custody Order Without Going to Court
If you and your co-parent can reach an agreement on what needs to be modified in the child custody schedule, they are always free to enter into a stipulation which is then signed by a family court judge. This stipulation essentially becomes the new, legally enforceable child custody and visitation order.
Generally, the best way to co-parent a child is for parents to work together to come to an agreement or modify a custody arrangement outside of court. This helps prevent a long, expensive court battle with experienced custody attorneys..
Modifying a custody arrangement without going to court does not simply mean discussing the matter with your co-parent or getting his or her permission to take the child. While you can do this, it is important to realize the oral agreement will not be an enforceable custody modification under California law. Without a judge’s consent to the change, your co-parent could turn around and report you for kidnapping – even if your co-parent orally agreed to the modification.
Protect yourself legally by contacting a reputable family law attorney to have your written agreement entered as a court order.
This option is the easiest and most cost-effective option, and an experienced family law attorney can assist you in negotiating the terms of the new order. Also, an attorney will know how to draft a comprehensive order that leaves no room for confusion and doesn’t leave any loopholes for the other party to exploit.
How to Change A Child Custody Order Through Mediation
Child custody mediation is a popular and effective avenue for parents trying to arrange or change a child custody order in California.
Mediation might be right for your family if you and your co-parent have a history of successfully working together on the terms of your custody case. If you and your co-parent have a high degree of conflict and poor co-parenting and communication skills, mediation might not be as productive. You and your co-parent must be willing to hear each other out and work together to resolve custody issues for the best interest of your child.
How to Change A Child Custody Order in Family Court
If parents cannot agree on modifying a custody order, the parent seeking the modification will need to file a motion, also referred to as a ‘Request for Order‘, with the court to request the change.
If you need to go back to the family court after a custody case was concluded to have the orders changed, you can file a motion (FL-300). You you will also need to attach a persuasive declaration explaining the basis for your request to change a child custody order and the facts that support it. The motion will also need to be properly filed and served on the other parent. California has detailed rules on correct service of process, but a skilled custody attorney can handle this for you.
Keep in mind that the family court’s main concern is always what is in the best interest of the child, so keep your requests child-centered. There should be a good reason for you to be asking the court to award you more visitation with your child.
Examples of a “significant change in circumstances” which may justify a modification of child custody are:
- The safety, health, or well-being of the child is at risk (e.g. the child is exposed to domestic violence in one parent’s home)
- One or both parents have demonstrated an inability to provide for the child’s physical, mental, or emotional needs
- One or both parents are abusing drugs or alcohol
- Criminal conviction or incarceration of one of the parents
- The child is being neglected or abused
- One or both of the parents have had a substantial change in their work schedules
- One parent has or wants to relocate, which will interfere with the current custodial arrangement
- The child has expressed a preference to change custody (if the child is old enough to voice a preference, depending on the child’s age and best interests)
Reasons the Court Can Change A Child Custody Order
Judges really don’t want to see people cycling through the courts on a regular basis asking the judge to change their visitation schedules. Courts are too busy to revisit your custody order every few months, so they expect parents to follow a parenting plan that is approved in in the custody case and make it work. Nevertheless, life goes on and circumstances do change, especially with growing children.
Modifying a court order requires more than mere dissatisfaction with its terms and obligations or a desire to pay less child support. The court will assume that the prior order is reasonable and in the child’s best interests. Judges will consider a modification, but only if you have a compelling reason. In modification proceedings, the goal is to convince the family court that since entry of the prior order, changes have taken place and require a new visitation order.
It is best to consult with a family law attorney before attempting to file a request for order in a family law matter to avoid costly mistakes with significant long-term consequences.
California’s family law procedures are complex and trying to navigate them without help of a California family lawyer can be frustrating. If you have questions about family law procedures, contact our accomplished and dedicated family law, divorce, and child custody lawyers by calling (844) 4-TALKOV (825568) or contact us online for a free consultation with our experienced family law attorney, Colleen Talkov, who can guide you through the court process in a prompt and clear manner.
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