Negotiating child custody and establishing parenting plans in a divorce are emotional processes. Although the statutes that govern child custody are complicated, a California court will always make decisions that are in the best interests of a child. While parents in an amicable divorce are free to negotiate child custody arrangements and draft parenting plans, circumstances may change, and you may find that the existing child custody arrangements are no longer in your child's best interests.
Under California's family law, parents who petition for a change in child custody arrangements must meet a high standard to justify such a change.
Steps to follow
Petitioning the court is the first step toward attempting to modify your child custody arrangement. The next step is preparing for your evidentiary hearing. During this second step, an experienced family law attorney can assist in documenting all proof of material changes of circumstances to present to the court. Once your formal hearing begins, it typically will proceed in the following manner:
- To begin the evidentiary hearing, you will have to present your general arguments in an opening statement. Your statement will have to show evidence of circumstances that have changed significantly enough to compromise the best interests of your child under the current child custody plan. This might happen if your ex - who has child custody - develops a drug or alcohol problem or is incarcerated or other circumstances occur that will now render him or her unable to properly care for your child.
- You can call witnesses who have direct knowledge of your former spouse's drug or alcohol abuse or other misconduct to substantiate your allegations in the opening statement. Law enforcement officers who have firsthand knowledge of illegal activity by the custodial parent can also be your witnesses.
- You will have to present to the court all documented evidence such as police reports, medical records or other materials supporting the child custody contentions.
- During the hearing, you will have to pay close attention to the other parent's statements and those made by witnesses. You must then cross-examine them to demonstrate that your statements have more merit than theirs do.
- Next, you must convince the court that your presentation of the case and proof of a significant change in circumstances meets the required standard.
- Lastly, you must request that the court enter a modification to the existing custody order to make you the parent with primary child custody.
Without experience to present such an argument in court, the above steps could prove to be an incredibly daunting and nearly impossible task. You might feel substantially more comfortable and drastically increase your odds of success with the support and guidance of a seasoned family law attorney who can navigate the legal proceedings on your behalf. An experienced California lawyer can assist with obtaining the necessary evidence to prove that the current circumstances no longer serve your child's best interests.