In the state of California, a common type of post-judgment modification occurs when an ex-spouse wants to change a court order after the final divorce judgment regarding child custody, child support, visitation, and spousal support (alimony). It's important to note that in order for a court to change an order, the ex-spouse seeking the change will have prove their case.
In order for this to even occur, you are required to file a request for a hearing to show the California family court there has been a significant “change in circumstances” after the final judgment was entered.
While there is no established hard definition under law for what exactly qualifies as a change of circumstance, there are generally a wide range of different factors considered by the judge for various forms of family court orders.
In the legal field of divorce and family law, the term “change in circumstance” is commonly used after you have already reached a divorce agreement with your ex-spouse.
As time passes after the marriage has legally ended, so does the circumstances of each former spouse.
In fact, many people who were divorced several years ago often find themselves in need of a modification of a current agreement. Our Los Angeles divorce and family law attorneys will review more closely below.
Child Custody and Visitation Change in Circumstances
One of the most common post-divorce-judgment changes in California occurs in child custody and visitation orders.
In order for the court to modify a current order, there must have been a substantial change in circumstances since the final orders were made.
As stated, what exactly constitutes a substantial change in circumstances is not always easy to determine, but what is in the child's best interest is always the court's top priority.
Best Interest Standard in California
Showing a substantial change in circumstances is required to modify an existing child custody order.
Under California Family Code 3011, a family law court must consider what is in the best interest of the child, which include the following factors:
- child's age,
- child's health, safety, and well-being,
- emotional relationship with parents,
- amount of time child spends with each parent,
- any history of domestic violence or abuse,
- parent's ability to provide care for the child,
- environment of child's living conditions,
- where the child attends school.
Unless a parent can prove changing a custodial agreement is in the best interest of the child, they will find it difficult to persuade a family court judge that a substantial change in circumstance has occurred.
What is Considered a Substantial Change in Circumstances?
In order for the California family court to make any changes to an existing order, you are responsible for proving there has been a “change of circumstance.”
There are many reasons a California family law court would change a child custody order.
Some examples for child custody issues include the following:
- ex-spouse has remarried or living with another person,
- primary custody parent is not sufficiently providing child's needs,
- parent provides an unsafe environment for the child,
- parent is unfit or can't care for child due to physical or mental illness,
- child is being abused by parent or someone living there,
- parent has become an addict to alcohol or drugs,
- primary custodial parent relocates too frequently,
- parent has moved a significant distant from non-custodial parent,
- parent has lost their job and can't provide financial support,
- child is now older and can have a say in custody preference.
Some examples for child and spousal support issues include the following:
- income of either parent has changed,
- either parent has lost their job,
- either parent becomes incarcerated,
- change in the amount of time a child spends with a parent,
- either parent retires or physically unable to work,
- parent receiving support fails to make effort to become self-supporting,
- change is expenses, such as medical or rehab cost,
- parent gets remarried or cohabitates with another person,
- child's needs have changed, such as health care costs.
California Family Code Sections 4053 and 4320 say that child and spousal support can be ordered by the court based on a guideline calculation.
Judges will typically allow a modification to child or spousal support if there are changes according to the guideline calculations.
Most Common Examples of Change in Circumstance
One of the most common “change in circumstance” in California deals with child custody arrangements.
As stated, every California family court is primarily concerned with the best interest of the child, thus the judge will consider their health and safety as a top priority.
For example, if a parent has been arrested for selling illegal drugs, or accused of child neglect due to a drug addiction, then the court will most likely be open to modifying an existing child custody order for the child's best interest.
On the flip side, let's say a parent was previously considered an unfit parent and now their circumstances have improved. The parent could seek also seek a child custody modification for change in circumstance.
In many cases, when a parent is seeking a custody modification, they will also seek to modify child support.
California child support is normally calculated by a set formula which gives the court a guideline amount. For example, the more time a child spends with one parent, the more financial support will be necessary.
So, if there has been a significant change on the amount of time a parent spends with their child, or other related issues, then they a child support modification based on a change in circumstance is appropriate.
In some cases, your family law attorney can make the changes without court intervention, but litigation in the courtroom is often necessary.
Family Law Attorneys for California Modification of Court Orders
Clearly, every situation is unique and you need to first seek legal advice from an experienced family law lawyer before seeking a modification of a court order.
Requesting a modification of an existing order due to a change in circumstances can prove difficult without the assistance and guidance of an experienced family law attorney.
You will need a skilled lawyer to help you with the modification to have the best chance at a successful outcome.
We have helped clients modify their child support, child custody, spousal support, and other family court orders for many years.
Furman & Zavatsky are Los Angeles divorce and family law attorneys representing clients throughout Southern California from our LA County office. Call our office for a free case evaluation at (818) 528-3471, or contact our firm online.