Can You Modify Your Existing Child Custody Arrangement?


You’ve been through a divorce and you have a child custody arrangement that likely worked for you – more or less – at the time it was written. With the passage of time, however, circumstances change, and what was once a decent fit may no longer be working. Divorce is complicated – but so is life. If you find yourself in a situation in which your child custody arrangement is no longer appropriate, there is a legal mechanism to effect change, and an Orange County family law attorney can guide you through the process.

A Change in Circumstances

Under California law, the court must consider the best interests of child when determining a child custody arrangement. When you or your ex’s circumstances change substantially, it can often justify modifying a child custody order. Some examples of things the court may consider a substantial change in circumstances include:

  • Evidence of child abuse
  • A serious criminal allegation
  • A change in the needs of the child
  • The loss of a job
  • A significant change in one parent’s work schedule
  • A change in the child’s wishes

You and Your Ex Have Come to a Mutually Agreeable Decision

If you and your ex have come to a mutual agreement that is different from the court ordered arrangement, the court will almost certainly grant you the modification you request. Because this is a fairly straightforward situation, you may be tempted not to bother with making the modification official by going through the court system, but this is rarely in your best interest. Though you and your ex agree to the arrangement today, it does not mean that your ex will not change his or her mind in the future. He or she could even declare that you are in contempt of the court-ordered custody arrangement. Keep things on the up-and-up by obtaining a modification.

A Procedural or Substantive Error Was Made

If the court made a procedural error that you believe negatively affected your custody arrangement, a modification could be in order. Further, if the court based its decision on faulty information – perhaps because your ex presented his or her circumstances in a way that doesn’t accurately reflect the situation – you can present the discrepancy to the court in your quest to obtain a modification.

If any of these situations apply to you, you can ask the court for a custody modification. Because issues related to child custody are the most emotionally fraught issues in a divorce (a highly charged endeavor to begin with), it is imperative that you take your child custody modification seriously and engage the professional services of an experienced Orange County family law attorney. The modification you seek is far too important to leave to chance.

Working with Your Ex

If you and your ex can hammer out the particulars of the modification you are requesting, you’ll likely save time, money, and heartache. A family law attorney who has experience with child custody modifications can help both of you work together to come up with something that is mutually agreeable. Even if you think collaborating with your ex is a lost cause, a skilled legal professional may be able to help you find common ground. Further, your attorney will explain what is likely to happen when you go to court in search of a modification (based on your specific circumstances), which can help you both better assess where you may be willing to make compromises.

Your Agreement

Your family law attorney will help you see your custody issue from all angles and will attempt to help you hammer out an agreement with your ex that protects your custody rights. If you are able to reach an agreement with your ex, there’s no need to proceed to court. Instead, your signed agreement will be filed with the court – and once the judge signs it, it becomes legally enforceable.

Proceeding to Court

If, on the other hand, you and your ex-spouse cannot reach an agreement regarding the modification – or if your ex simply refuses to engage – you will have to take the matter before the court. In this case, you are going to want to have experienced legal representation. If your issue with custody is so significant that you are willing to go to court, it’s a serious matter and you want to represent your best possible case. If you are requesting a modification, the burden is on you to convince the court that the modification is in the best interest of your children, and your skilled family law attorney will help you carefully build a case that illustrates this point.

Authored by IRWIN & IRWIN.

IRWIN & IRWIN Family Law is located in Fullerton and Newport Beach, California.  We provide a full suite of family law services from divorce litigation, divorce mediation, child custody issues, domestic violence restraining orders and representing minors in court.  “Every situation is different, and some come with very complex financial issues.  Our legal team is here to support you during a very troubling time and prepare you for court, or to at least help negotiate or mediate the issues out to establish an equitable legal resolution,” says Kelly Irwin, Senior Litigator at the firm.