How to Modify a Legal Custody Order in California

As time goes by, a legal custody arrangement involving a minor child may not be appropriate or feasible for a variety of reasons. Custody arrangements are modifiable as the needs of the parties and the minor children change over time. This article provides an overview of the steps needed to modify a legal custody order and the standards to be applied by the court when considering such a request.

Modification By Mutual Agreement

A California child custody order can be modified by agreement with the other spouse. The agreement must be in writing, and executed by both parties before the judge will consider it. Court approval is not automatic. The judge will evaluate the request by determining whether the “best interests of the child” would be served by the change, under the standards discussed below. If he makes such a finding, the agreement then becomes legally binding on both parents.

Contested Modification

If the request is contested, the requesting parent must show a “significant change of circumstances” in support of his or her modification request. California family courts will not accept just any change in circumstances as justification for modifying a child custody order. The following are some examples of typical changes in circumstances that might convince a court to modify a child custody order:

• One parent has placed the child in a dangerous environment

• One parent was convicted of a crime.

• One parent has failed to adequately provide for the child’s needs.

• One parent needs to change residences to a distant location.

• One parent has become ill

• The custodial parent is denying the non-custodial parent rightful contact

Once a change in circumstances is demonstrated, the court will determine whether the proposed modification is in the child’s best interests. “Best interest” is focused on the child’s health, education and general welfare. When making this determination the court will consider (among other things):

• The child’s age

• Instances of domestic violence by either parent

• The distance of each party’s home from the children’s schools

• History of drug or alcohol abuse by either parent

• The child’s preference, based on level of maturity

• The nature and depth of the relationship between each party and the children

The practical reality is a court will probably not change legal custody unless there’s a good reason for it and the child will benefit. A parent who seeks such a legal custody change should be prepared to provide evidence in support of his or her position.

Procedure For Changing Legal Custody Order

Court approval is required to modify a legal custody order. Several forms need to be completed and filed, the contesting souse needs to be served with the papers, and the parties will be required to attend a hearing. The court might also require the parties’ attendance at a mediation before the hearing.

It is important that the forms be properly completed. Any error in filing for child custody modification could result in a delay in processing the order, or a denial of the request.

Lynx will ensure your documents are in tip top shape. As legal document preparers, Lynx has extensive experience with the documentation that needs to be filed when preparing child custody modification forms. Also, using our services will save you thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees you otherwise would have spent to complete the process. Please contact us at 888-441-2355 or with any questions or if you would like to start a work order.

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