Can You Modify a Child Custody Order Without Going to Court?
Child custody can be a point of contention and concern for California couples during a divorce. Even if a couple’s marriage has eroded to the point of hostility, it isn’t uncommon for both partners to agree on one thing: they want what’s best for their child. Fortunately, the California courts approach child custody cases with the same goal in mind.
Despite the stressors of divorce, parents may take comfort in the fact that no child custody arrangement is truly set in stone. More often than not, the court not only understands the need to amend a parenting plan, but anticipates the need to make such modifications as the child continues to grow and develop.
Whether a parent simply wants to extend vacation time or wishes to alter the custody terms altogether, it’s imperative to follow all legal procedures meticulously when petitioning for a parenting plan modification.
Keep reading to learn more about the steps required of parents wishing to modify a current custody arrangement in California.
Modifying a Parenting Plan or Custody Order in California
Under California law, a parent may request a parenting plan modification at any time. However, there is never a guarantee that such requests will be granted, as the court must determine whether the proposal is in the best interests of the child.
There are various reasons that a parent may find it necessary to modify a current parenting plan. It’s normal for a child’s needs to change with age, especially when they grow old enough to express their own preferences. This may also occur if the child develops a medical condition or mental health disorder that may require a modified schedule to best accommodate the child’s care.
In other cases, substantial changes in the parent's life may warrant a child custody order modification, such as relocation, a parent refusing to comply with the current arrangement, evidence of child abuse, or unsafe living conditions.
Whatever the case, parents should educate themselves on the legal processes involved in modifying a custody order, as this will maximize their chance of success in court.
Legal Grounds for Child Custody Modifications
To warrant a modification to the current parenting plan, the petitioner (the parent requesting the modification) must be prepared to prove a substantial change in circumstances—the legal ground required to modify a custody arrangement in the state of California.
Parents should keep in mind that, to warrant the modification, the “change in circumstances” must directly correlate to the best interests of the child. Put simply, the proposed modification must be determined as necessary for the child’s safety and wellbeing.
Common examples of circumstantial changes that may warrant a custody arrangement modification include (but aren’t limited to):
- One parent relocating out of the child's school district
- One or both parents are experiencing scheduling conflicts due to work or school
- The child’s needs have evolved with age
- Parental behavior is threatening the safety of the child (such as substance abuse, addiction, or child abuse)
- One parent is getting remarried or has a new family
Can You Modify a Parenting Plan without Going to Court?
In California, it’s rare for parents to modify a parenting plan without going to court.
The only possible way to avoid a mandatory custody modification hearing in California is if both parents agree on the proposed changes and write a new parenting plan to reflect those changes.
In these cases, the court will generally order both parents to attend mediation to formally officialize the new parenting plan. Mediation entails both parents sitting down with a neutral third party who can help minimize conflict and facilitate constructive conversation to reach a settlement as quickly as possible. The mediation process can be an effective way for parents to cut legal costs, avoid unnecessary escalations, and retain a sense of privacy within the family.
If for whatever reason both parents can no longer agree on the terms of the new arrangement, they must appear before a judge to establish and finalize the amended arrangement.
7 Steps to Modify a Parenting Plan in California
Unless both parents agree to all aspects of a proposed custody modification, a parent wishing to modify a current parenting plan must take the appropriate steps to file a claim with the court. Consider the following steps to amend a child custody order in California:
- Consult with a trusted family lawyer. Family law is one of the most complex areas of our legal system. In many cases, the support of a trusted family law attorney can mean the difference between your modification request getting approved or denied. Your lawyer can also help ensure that all mandatory forms are filled out correctly and effectively as possible, in addition to helping you serve corresponding papers to the other parent.
- Complete Form FL-300 (Request for Order). This form requires the petitioner to list the details of the proposed new parenting plan. The parent should take care to include as much information as possible, such as visitation times, holiday schedules, and other mandatory elements of the child custody arrangement.
- Complete Form FL-311 (Child Custody and Visitation), if desired. Petitioning parents may also submit this optional form if they wish. This is strongly encouraged if the other parent has not complied with the current parenting plan in the past, as it can offer the court more insight regarding the petitioner’s reason for the modification request and will likely influence the final decision in court.
- Make copies of the form(s). Petitioners should make 2 copies of all forms: one for themselves and one to serve the opposing party.
- File the original forms with the court. After making copies of the required forms, it’s time to file the original document(s) with your local court.
- Attend mediation. More often than not, the court will order you and the other parent to attend mediation in an effort to reach an agreement outside of the court. Resolving a custody dispute in mediation can be advantageous to many couples, as it can save them time, money, and unnecessary conflict in court while retaining a sense of familial privacy.
- Appear before a judge if the matter cannot be resolved. If mediation fails to facilitate an eventual agreement between both parents, they must appear before a judge and allow the court to reach the decision.
Reliable Representation for California Families in Need
Our compassionate legal team at Creative Family Solutions, Cecil Cianci Law, PC has over six decades of collective experience to best serve the needs of California families. We understand how emotional familial disputes can be, especially when children and loved ones are involved. This is why our firm is committed to helping each client navigate family matters as efficiently and painlessly as possible.
Whether you require legal assistance with a divorce, adoption, or allegations of child abuse, our skilled family law attorneys can help you build the strongest case possible and fight tirelessly to obtain the result you desire in court.
Our team has a proven track record of success representing families in Roseville, Sacramento, and the surrounding areas. Familial legal disputes often entail high stakes for all parties involved. In some cases, forgoing your right to reliable legal representation can be a costly mistake. Turn to a trusted family law firm backed with six decades of legal experience.
Whether you're preparing for a divorce, child custody case, or other familial dispute, you deserve experienced representation from a family lawyer you can count on. Call (916) 675-3866 to schedule a consultation.