When Can Child Custody Be Modified in California?

When parents decide to divorce and they have minor children at home, they have to establish a parenting plan that addresses child custody. What many parents don’t realize, however, is that child custody is open-ended and is always subject to change. Why? Because, as children grow older and as time passes, circumstances change.

For example, a teenage boy who has been living with his mother may want to move in with his father when his mom remarries because he doesn’t get along with his new stepfather. Or, a mother may want to move back home to another state and her tenth grader doesn’t want to leave all of her friends. Or, a father may become ill with terminal cancer and it may become necessary for his ex-wife to assume primary custody of their children – the possibilities are endless.

Changing a Custody Order

Sometimes, the parents agree they need to change custody and there are no disputes or issues. However, it’s not sufficient to put it in writing and have it notarized. The courts cannot enforce a written agreement between parents if it has not been made into an official court order.

Even when parents agree on a child custody modification, they should go back to court and have the change memorialized into a court order that can be legally enforced. This is also important for child support, which usually changes when there is a significant change in child custody.

Child Custody Disputes

In some cases, there is a dispute about changing custody. Usually, the noncustodial parent wants to become the custodial parent but the custodial parent won’t have any part of it. In these situations, the parent who is seeking a change in custody has to petition the court for a modification.

The parent seeking the modification will have to prove to the court that such a change is in their child’s best interests. Often, noncustodial parents seek a change in custody when there is some issue that’s affecting the child’s wellbeing. The “issue” can be anything from an abusive partner to child neglect to substance abuse on behalf of the custodial parent, and so on.

Next: Can I Stop Paying Child Support if I Can’t See My Kids?

If you need professional legal representation in a child custody matter, contact Burch, Coulston & Shepard for a case evaluation.