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How to Modify a Custody Order Due to a Change in Circumstances in California.

Understanding Custody Order Modifications in California

Child custody arrangements are legally binding agreements that dictate the responsibilities of each parent towards their children following a separation or divorce. In California, these orders are determined with the best interests of the child in mind. However, life is not static, and significant changes in circumstances may necessitate a modification of the original custody order.

How to Modify a Custody Order Due to a Change in Circumstances in California. image

Criteria for Modifying a Custody Order

To modify a custody order in California, the requesting party must demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances since the last custody order was made. This change must be significant enough to warrant a re-evaluation of the child's best interests. Examples of changes that could meet this criterion include:

Initiating the Modification Process

To start the modification process, the parent seeking change must file a request with the court that issued the original custody order. This involves completing forms such as the Request for Order (Form FL-300) and attaching a declaration detailing the reasons for seeking modification.

Mediation and Court Intervention

In many cases, California courts will require parents to attend mediation before proceeding with a custody modification hearing. Mediation aims to help parents reach an agreement on their own. If mediation fails or is deemed inappropriate, the case will move to a court hearing.

The Role of Evidence and Hearings

During a hearing, both parties can present evidence to support their positions. This evidence might include witness testimony, school reports, medical records, or other documentation that substantiates the claim of changed circumstances. The court will consider all presented information to determine if modification is in the child's best interests.

Potential Outcomes and Considerations

The court may grant a modification that adjusts physical or legal custody, or both. Physical custody pertains to where the child lives, while legal custody concerns decision-making power over important aspects of the child's life. It's also possible for modifications to alter visitation schedules without changing custody.

In some historical cases, courts have been hesitant to modify custody orders without compelling evidence. For instance, in In re Marriage of Burgess (1996), the California Supreme Court upheld a lower court's decision allowing a custodial parent to move with the children because it did not detrimentally impact their welfare.


Modifying a custody order is a complex legal process that requires careful preparation and clear demonstration of changed circumstances. Parents considering such action should seek legal advice to understand their rights and obligations and ensure compliance with all procedural requirements.