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How difficult is it to modify your child custody order?

If you are a divorced California parent, there may come a time after the court originally issues your custody and visitation order when that order no longer meets your needs or those of your children. As the California Court System explains, it is not unusual for divorced parents to change their parenting agreement every three years or so as their children grow up and their activities, interests and needs change.

If you and your ex-spouse can agree on a new order, you may write it yourself and present it to the court that granted your divorce. If you cannot agree, you may wish to try mediation to help you reach agreement. If even that does not result in an agreement, however, you will need to file an application for modification in the court that granted your divorce.

Filing your own papers

Your best course of action in changing your custody agreement is to hire an experienced family law attorney to help you do so. Your other option is to seek assistance from Family Court Services to ensure that your papers are in order and that the court itself does not require you and your ex-spouse to attend mediation.

Be sure to state in your modification request the reason(s) why you believe it is necessary and why your proposed parenting plan serves your children’s best interests. Also make two copies of your modification request and file the original and both copies with the court clerk. Once (s)he stamps all three “filed,” (s)he will return the two copies to you. (S)he will also give you two copies of a form showing your court date. Retain one copy of each document for yourself and serve the other copy on your ex-spouse.

Serving your ex-spouse

Serving your ex-spouse in person is always the wisest choice. However, you must not do this yourself. Instead, you may wish to hire a professional process server who can give you a proper Proof of Personal Service form once (s)he serves your ex-spouse. Remember to instruct the process server that (s)he must serve the papers at least 16 days prior to your court date. When (s)he gives you the Proof of Personal Service form, file it with the court clerk as soon as possible and definitely prior to your court date.

Attending your hearing

At your modification hearing, be prepared to testify as to the following:

  • Why you want the modification
  • The specific changed circumstances that make modification necesary
  • Why your proposed new order is in your children’s best interests
  • Why the judge should incorporate it into a new court order

This is educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.