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Modifying Child Custody Orders in California

Child custody orders are not set in stone. Life is unpredictable, and circumstances can change, leading to the need for modifications.

Whether you are seeking more time with your child, a different visitation schedule, or a complete change in the custody arrangement, you can modify your existing order with an attorney’s help.

The process can be complex and emotionally challenging, but with the right legal guidance, you can accomplish your goals and ensure that your child's best interests are protected.

Here is a broad overview of the process of altering an existing child custody ruling.

The Different Types of Child Custody in California

First, you should know that there is a difference between legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody refers to making decisions for the child. Typically, this power focuses on educational and healthcare concerns.

Physical Custody refers to a parent with substantial caregiving responsibilities toward a child. Shared Physical Custody exists where that responsibility is shared with the other parent. As a concept, “Physical Custody” is not the same thing as “Visitation” which typically describes a specific parenting schedule. Physical Custody is often a distinction without significant meaning to the rights of the parent or child, however it can greatly impact some later court decisions, especially where one parent seeks to relocate with a shared child.

Sole custody gives one parent all the rights and responsibilities to make decisions regarding the child's upbringing and residence.

Joint custody allows both parents to share decision-making and physical custody.

There are also blended options available. One parent could, for instance, have legal custody while the other has physical custody. Parents could share decision-making authority, or one could make medical decisions while the other handles educational matters. The possibilities are almost limitless.

In "bird's nest custody," the child stays in one home while the parents take turns living there to care for them.

Common Reasons to Alter Your Custody Agreement

Change in circumstances: Examples include relocation, change in employment, change in the child's needs, or a change in someone’s health.

Parental conflict: Ongoing strife between the parents can negatively impact the well-being of the child. A modification could create a more stable and peaceful environment.

Child's preference: Depending on the age and maturity of the child, you should consider their preferences and alter custody accordingly.

Safety concerns: Perhaps there are concerns with parental fitness. Unfit parents show signs of abuse, neglect, or addiction.

Violation of the existing order: If one parent consistently fails to comply with the terms of the current order, altering the agreement could force this parent into compliance. Examples include denying visitation rights or refusing to adhere to agreed-upon schedules.

What to Consider When Modifying a Child Custody Order

When making any custody decision, your top priority is the child's best interests. Parents should always evaluate how a modification will impact their child's daily routine and overall well-being.

Communication and cooperation are also essential during the modification process, as both parents must agree to the changes.

You must also be sure to closely follow the legal requirements involved, including filing paperwork and attending court hearings. An attorney can help you with this part.

Filing for a Child Custody Modification in California

  • Fill out the necessary forms.
    Obtain the required forms, such as the FL-300, also known as the "Request for Order." Fill out this form with details of the requested change.
  • Make copies of the forms.
    Make two copies of the completed forms. You need one for your records and another to submit to court.
  • File the forms.
    Take the original form and the two copies to the court clerk. Submit them to the clerk, who will assist you in filing the forms properly.
  • Pay the filing fee.
    The fee ranges from $60 to $85, unless you have a fee waiver. You must pay this fee at the time of filing.
  • Obtain a court date.
    After filing the forms and paying the fee, the court clerk will assign you a court date when you will present your case before a judge. If parents agree to the modifications, it may not be necessary to attend court.
  • Serve the papers.
    This step is necessary only if the other parent does not know you made the request. It informs them of the court date and gives them time to build a counterargument if necessary. Serving papers involves hiring a professional process server or using certified mail.
  • File proof of service.
    Once the papers have been served, you must file proof of service with the court. This document confirms that the other party has been properly notified of the custody modification request.
  • Attend the court hearing.
    Be prepared to provide evidence that supports your request.

Common Problems that Arise When Modifying a Child Custody Order

  • One parent fails to follow the current custody order. A court may be hesitant to grant a modification when someone demonstrates a lack of compliance.
  • Both parents cannot agree on the new terms of the custody arrangement. This situation often leads to a prolonged legal battle. Such conflict is emotionally and financially taxing for both parents.

    To avoid such conflict, we suggest that the parents attend mediation. By doing so, parents can work together under the guidance of a trained mediator. The goal is to find common ground and negotiate a new agreement that better suits everyone involved. Mediation can reduce conflict, and it can save you time, money, and emotional distress.

Resources for Help During the Child Custody Modification Process

Local legal aid organizations, like the Legal Aid Society, can provide legal representation to low-income families.

California has bar associations that provide free or low-cost legal support.

Family and Children's Services can provide counseling and other family-related services.

Support groups like Parents Without Partners can offer emotional support during this stressful time.

The Law Office of David A. Martin & Associates can work with parents and help them create a new child custody agreement. To meet with our team, call our office at (916) 299-3936 or contact us online.