Your divorce was finalized two or three years ago when your children had different needs. Now, you want to change the child custody or visitation agreement to better reflect your current situation. In general, if both parents agree in writing to the changes, you may not have to go to court to change the agreement. However, when you and the other parent cannot agree or there is serious interference in your visitation schedule, you may need to take the matter before a judge.
What justifies a modification?
The court will look at many factors when changing a custody and visitation schedule. The key element is always the best interest of the child. You might need to change your agreement if:
- Your work schedule changes.
- You move to be closer to the child or relocate farther away.
- The other parent is preparing to move outside the geographic area where the child has lived.
- The other parent is not acting responsibly - for instance, getting the child to school late, engaging in substance abuse or criminal activity, etc.
- Your child's preference changes. In California, a child who is at least 14 must be allowed to address the court as to his or her wishes pertaining to custody, but the court can also listen to younger children if it chooses.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle." The family court system does not process change very quickly. It is important to recognize that making a modification to your child custody arrangement might be a long process. Do not be discouraged if you have to wait a few months, especially when you know that you will be rewarded by having a bigger role in your child's life.
Consult an experienced attorney
When you work with an attorney who understands California family law, you may be able to find alternative solutions to your child custody modification that do not mean litigation. You may need to redefine your parenting plan with the other parent and a mediator to meet the best interests of the child.
It is always best to try and work out child custody and visitation with the other parent without getting the court involved. Children benefit when parents can work together to find a solution. If that is not possible, a third party can help you communicate your position with the other parent or the court. Your child deserves two parents who are each part of his or her life.