You already know that divorce is never easy, and when children are involved, the difficulties multiply. If you and your spouse are parents who are divorcing, try to work out a child custody agreement even before one of you files the divorce papers. If you can come to your own custody agreement, you’ll both save yourselves a great deal of time, money, and aggravation. In southern California, an experienced Long Beach child visitation attorney can help.

When divorce is hostile or acrimonious, and spouses can’t reach any agreement regarding child custody, the decision is made by a judge. The well-being your child or children is your top priority, so if you can’t come to an agreement with your spouse regarding child custody, you must be represented by an experienced California family lawyer. Your attorney can address your concerns, explain how the state’s child custody laws apply in your own case, and advocate vigorously on your behalf.

WHAT IF A CHILD CUSTODY ORDER NEEDS TO BE CHANGED?

Whether spouses reach their own agreement, or it’s left up to a judge, at some point after a divorce, circumstances will almost certainly change, and the child custody arrangement will require some modification.

A parent may request a modification of the custody order when a parent’s income changes or a child’s needs have changed. A modification may also be requested when:

– One parent has suffered a severe injury or illness.
– One parent wants or needs to move out of the jurisdiction or out of the state.
– One parent has received a criminal conviction or has lost his or her job.
– One parent has married a new partner.
– A new child has been born to either parent.
– The time a child spends with a parent has significantly changed.
– The child’s medical, educational, or other needs have changed.
– Anything else arises that substantially affects the custody order or the child.

To request a child custody order modification from a California family court, have a family law attorney help you complete the paperwork that’s needed to start the process. Again, if you can reach an agreement with your ex-spouse regarding the modification of a custody order, it can save you both a great deal of trouble. However, if your ex-spouse disputes the need for the modification that you are requesting, you’ll both probably be ordered by the court to meet with a professional mediator and work through the mediation process.

A hearing date will be set. A judge then will consider any tentative agreement proposal reached in the mediation process, and that judge will make a final decision on your child custody modification request. If you divorced in a different county or state, it’s possible to move the case to Los Angeles County, but you’ll need the help of an experienced Long Beach family law attorney.

WHY WOULD A CHILD CUSTODY MODIFICATION REQUEST BE DENIED?

Child custody order modifications are not approved for negligible or frivolous reasons. The change in life circumstances must be substantial, and any modification must serve the child’s best interests.

In all matters involving children in California law, a judge is required to consider the child’s best interests as the paramount priority. California law presumes that in most situations, consistent and regular communication and time with both parents is in the best interests of a child.

Thus, judges who determine custody disputes in this state have wide discretion to determine what is in the best interests of a child. If you are seeking custody, a recent conviction or even an arrest, a record of recent drug or alcohol abuse, or any recent history of violent behavior can sabotage your chances to become the custodial parent. An experienced family law attorney can assess your particular circumstances and advise you regarding your wisest course of action.

Sole custody of a child to one parent is ordered by a California court only if that court is persuaded that sole custody is genuinely in the best interests of the child. Sole custody means the other parent no longer possesses any legal authority regarding concerns such as a child’s religious upbringing, healthcare, or education. When sole custody is the court’s order, the court must explain its decision in writing.

But even when a California court authorizes the sole custody of a child to one parent, visitation privileges are usually granted to the non-custodial parent. A judge, however, may in some cases order an agency of the state – or authorize another third party – to supervise those visits. In some cases, a judge will order a custody evaluation to obtain more information about the parents and the child or children before issuing a custody order.

HOW IS A CHILD CUSTODY EVALUATION CONDUCTED?

When a “730” evaluation is sought by a judge, a mental health professional will conduct the evaluation and recommend a parenting and custody plan. Most California family law judges now rely on 730 evaluations to help them make custody determinations. A custody evaluation may include interviews, psychological tests, and professional observations and judgments. The evaluation process can take as long as six months. Parents are scrutinized closely during the evaluation period and expected to exercise their best parenting skills.

If the decision regarding your child’s custody is made by a California judge, the law in our state requires that decision to be in the child’s best interests. Thus, in any child custody dispute – or even a dispute over child support or visitation privileges – it’s imperative for a parent to be sober, rational, and cooperative. Making defamatory statements or claims regarding the child’s other parent, for example, never helps you in any divorce-related legal dispute.

An experienced family law attorney can help many divorced and divorcing parents resolve a child custody dispute using the mediation or arbitration process. Mediation and arbitration help many parents avoid an acrimonious courtroom battle. However, if you need to have a child custody order modified and your child’s other parent is uncooperative, you must have the counsel of an experienced southern California family law attorney who routinely and successfully handles child custody disputes.

Relocations, new jobs, and new marriages happen to parents all the time. Injuries, illnesses, and unemployment are frequent as well, and the courts in California understand that everyone’s circumstances change over time. Child custody order modifications are not unusual, but a request for a modification will require an attorney’s help. Don’t hesitate to seek that help. Nothing is more important than your child.