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Child Custody

Can a Child Custody Order Be Modified in California?

When parents get a divorce, they usually want a parenting plan which details the scope of child custody, including when each parent will be spending time with their children. What many newly divorced parents don’t realize is that child custody orders are often open-ended. Meaning, not only might they be subject to change, but the Court intended them to be temporary; most families do in fact change custody orders at least once, if not multiple times over the years.

Why do families change child custody orders? Because, as the years go by, people’s lives change and children’s needs change. Common reasons for child custody changes or modifications include but are not limited to:

  • A natural advancement of the child’s age or developmental abilities
  • A material change in the child’s activities or interests
  • A change in school placement
  • A change in the child’s wishes and preferences
  • A negative event in a parents’ life or lifestyle, i.e. domestic violence or criminal conviction
  • A temporary or permanent change in daycare provider
  • A parent seeks permission to move out of state or far away
  • An older child wants to spend more or less time with a particular parent
  • The custodial parent develops a severe mental illness
  • The custodial parent develops a substance abuse problem
  • The child does not get along with a parent’s new spouse or new siblings
  • The child does not want to move away from their school and friends

Changing a Custody Order in California

After a family court judge issues an order on custody, the question becomes whether either parent has the right to seek a change or modification of that order. The answer is often based on whether the order to be changed was intended as “full and final determination” of the custody issue, or merely as a temporary order. It also matters when the request to change is made, relative to the former order.

Generally, the Court will always do what it deems to be in the best interest of the child. However, if the prior order is a final determination, relevant California case law requires the moving party establish a material change of circumstances resulting in detriment to the child before a prior determination of the child’s “best interest” will be disturbed. This rule does not apply if the prior order is considered a temporary order – though in most counties the Court will disfavor a new motion brought within 6 months of a prior order.

California Courts recognize there are many valid reasons to change an existing custody order. For example, a child’s needs, activities, interests, or wishes may change. And as each parent starts a new chapter in their life, factors like new jobs, new partners, and new homes can all be reasons to change an outdated parenting plan.

As a quick side note, parents should also be aware that child custody and child support disputes are entirely separate issues. For example, if you are the noncustodial parent and the custodial parent is not letting you see your children for any reason, including parental alienation, you still have to continue paying your monthly child support payments. Otherwise, you can face serious repercussions.

If you are being alienated from your children, the wisest thing to do is promptly seek a court order to enforce or change the custody order. Do not wait until the other parent “comes to their senses.” Proof that a parent is intentionally and without justification blocking another parent from seeing their children is usually a basis to change custody. If you need assistance with a child custody matter, contact The Law Office of David A. Martin & Associates to schedule an initial consultation with an attorney from our firm.