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8 Steps to modifying child custody orders in California

Child custody agreements are not permanent. In fact, the California courts recommend renegotiating portions of the parenting agreement every two to three years as the child’s needs change. If both parents agree to proposed changes they simply need to submit the revised agreement to the court for approval. Requests for modifications where parents do not agree are more challenging and require assistance from the court.

The change must be warranted

When requesting a change to the custody order, you must be able to show that there has been a significant “change in circumstances” since the original order was made. Significant life changes include a job change or relocation which may make the current agreement not feasible or impractical. Safety concerns for the child in cases of parental abuse or neglect are also a valid reason.

The process for requesting a change

To ask for a court to modify an existing child custody agreement there are eight steps the parent must complete, leading up to a court hearing.

  • Complete the Request for Order form. While optional, a parent may also submit a Child Custody and Visitation Application Attachment which is a fillable form outlining how the parents will handle visitation and other parenting plan details.
  • Have the forms reviewed. The forms can be reviewed by either an attorney or a family law facilitator.
  • Make two copies of each form. One copy with be submitted to the court, another copy will be given to the other parent and you will retain the final copy.
  • File the forms. A copy of the form needs to be filed with the county clerk, but bring all three copies as the clerk will stamp the other copies with “filed”. There is a filing fee that must be paid in order to file the documents.
  • Obtain a court date from the county clerk. If mediation beforehand is required, you may have to attend a mediation orientation or meet with a mediator before the court date.
  • Serve the court papers. Formal notice of the requested change must be served to the other parent by a third party. A server can be a sheriff, professional server or a legal adult not involved with the case.
  • File a Proof of Service. After serving the other parent, the server must complete a Proof of Professional Service form. Upon receiving the form you must file it with the court.
  • Attend mediation or a court hearing. If mediation is required, you and the other parent may be able to resolve custody issues there. If not, the request will proceed to a hearing where a judge will make a decision.

When reviewing motions to modify child custody agreements, the court will always keep the best interest of the child in mind. Requests made for insignificant or unfounded reasons will be unlikely for consideration and approval.

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