Modifying Child Custody Agreements in California

hand filling Custody of Child document

Child custody agreements aren’t always set in stone. California law recognizes that circumstances can change and there may be a need to modify a custody order from time to time. Importantly, neither parent can make changes to an existing custody agreement without the other parent’s consent or by order of the court. A child custody agreement can be changed at any time as long as there is a significant change in circumstances — and modifying child custody arrangements is in the child’s best interests.

Reasons to Modify Child Custody

While courts favor stability when it comes to child custody arrangements, a child custody modification may be warranted in situations where there is a need for one. In the event there is a significant change in circumstances, California courts apply the best interests of the child standard to determine whether a modification should be granted.

Some common reasons for modifying child custody can include the following:

  • A change in the child’s needs as they grow older
  • A parent’s relocation to a new home
  • Changes to a parent’s work schedule that would impact the existing custody arrangement
  • Instances of parental alienation
  • Abuse or neglect by a parent
  • A parent refuses to follow the custody order
  • A parent no longer has the ability to care for the child

In addition, parents may agree to voluntarily modify an existing custody agreement if they find the current arrangement no longer works. Parents can work together to create a custody arrangement that meets the needs of their child and family when a change in their family situation arises.

How to Request a Child Custody Modification in Court

A parent who is seeking a child custody modification will need to submit their request to the court if they cannot get the consent of the other parent. Unilateral changes cannot be made to an existing custody order unless the other parent agrees, or the court issues a new order. If there has been a significant change in circumstances, the parent who wishes to modify custody will need to provide the details regarding the requested change to the court in a form FL-300 Request for Order, with an attached declaration. The other parent must be served a copy of the form and proof of service must be filed with the court.

After a child custody modification has been requested, a hearing will be scheduled in court. At the hearing, both parents will have the opportunity to argue their position to the judge who will use the best interests of the child standard to determine whether the modification should be granted.

How Can a Custody Order Be Modified?

A child custody order can be changed at any time until a child reaches the age of 18. However, doing so does not always require lengthy litigation in the courtroom. There are several ways a custody order can be modified, depending on whether parents are amicable and agree on the changes that need to be made.

Specifically, a child custody order can be changed in the following ways:

  • Agreement between the parents — Parents are free to reach an agreement between themselves regarding a custody modification. In such cases, they can enter into a written agreement or stipulation and submit it to the family court judge for approval.
  • Mediation — If parents cannot agree on the issue of modifying child custody, they may be able to work through their differences using the mediation process. A neutral third-party called a mediator will help facilitate healthy communication between parents so they are able to discuss their concerns freely and openly. Once an agreement has been reached and signed by a judge, it becomes a legally binding order.
  • Court order — In the event parents cannot reach an agreement between themselves or with the help of mediation when it comes to the issue of modifying custody, it might be necessary to file a motion with the court and set the issue for a contested hearing in front of the judge. The judge will listen to both parents’ arguments and determine whether a custody modification is warranted. They will then issue a court order that both parties must abide by.

In many courthouses in California, mediation is mandatory before a modification case will be heard by a judge. Many cases are resolved in mediation and there is no need for the parties to appear in court. Mediation usually takes place with a Family Court Services mediator, or in some circumstances, during private meditation. During the mediation session, the mediator will work with the parents to create a parenting plan that meets the best interests of their children. However, the mediator cannot issue an order. In some counties, the mediator will make written recommendations for the judge to consider, and if persuaded, the judge could adopt those recommendations and make them into a legally binding order.

Contact an Experienced California Child Custody Attorney

Modifying child custody can be nuanced and complex. Whether you are the parent seeking or opposing a modification, it’s best to have the guidance of a skilled family law attorney who can safeguard your rights and ensure the best interests of your children are met. Located in Walnut Creek, California, Bednarczyk & Valerio, LLP offers compassionate representation and diligent counsel to clients in California for a wide variety of family law matters, including those concerning child custody modifications. Call 925-464-2494 or contact us online to schedule a consultation to learn how we can help.

Categories: Child Custody