When a California court issues a child custody and/or visitation order, it generally does so after a thorough consideration of relevant statutory factors. The main object of its deliberations is to decide what arrangement will best meet the interests of the child.
In entertaining any request to modify the original order, the court will continue to focus on whether the modification serves the child's best interest.
Changing circumstances vs current stability
Stability ranks among the top factors that influence a child's well-being. Changing existing custody arrangements inevitably decreases that stability. Therefore, courts want to see that the considerations behind the modification request relate to a facet of the child's welfare that is at least as important as the stability factor. To succeed in modifying a custody order, you must show that circumstances have changed significantly and that the requested modification is in the best interest of your child.
When a parent needs to move
One common reason for a modification request is one parent's need to relocate. Many times this is a very valid need; however, it can still affect the practical feasibility of sticking to the original custody and visitation schedule.
If the relocating parent does not have custody, modifications could include fewer but longer visits. When the custodial parent moves away, courts may require him or her to pay for the visiting parent's travel expenses. In other cases, the court may determine that maintaining a stable environment for the child may mean handing over custody to the parent who stays.
Interference with visitation
Generally, disagreements between the parents will not rise to a level that calls for custody modification. However, in extreme cases of consistent denial of visitation or other extreme interference with the other parent's rights can form the basis of changing custody.
The child's preferences
A court may, but does not have to, consider the wishes of the child in question. California does not set forth a specific age cut-off for this. Courts usually consider an older child's preferences more seriously but sometimes will also take into account a younger child's opinion.