Court orders are not set in stone. California law recognizes that life changes, and it allows for the modification of court orders under certain circumstances if necessary and proper. There are many good reasons why you may want to modify a custody, visitation, child support, or spousal support order.
Modifying Child Custody & Visitation
Child custody and visitation orders can be modified to either change the amount of parenting time or the scheduling of such time. Changes in the lives of the parents, such as new partners, new homes, moves, or personal life setbacks could be the impetus for seeking a new order. Additionally, as children get older, their interests and needs evolve, sometimes making order modification necessary.
If the parents agree on the modification, they can simply file an agreement in family court. The judge will sign the agreement, and once signed, the agreement will be valid. Coming to an agreement is the least costly and complicated route, but it is still valuable to have the help of an attorney to assist with negotiations.
If there is not an agreement between the parents, one parent must file for an order modification with the family court. The court will only grant the modification if there has been a significant change in circumstances since the order was put in place. The reason there must be a significant change is that California believes children should have stable and consistent custody arrangements.
Examples of significant changes include:
- A parent developed or overcame a substance abuse problem
- There are new child abuse charges
- The child's medical or schooling needs changed
- A parent's employment changed
- A parent's physical or mental health has changed
- A parent moved
Modifying Child Support
Generally, a child support order can be modified if you can show a change in circumstances. However, you do not need to show a change in circumstances if the amount originally ordered is lower than the child support guideline.
Child support cannot be changed retroactively. The modification will only go into effect after the judge signs the new order.
As with child custody, if the parents can reach an agreement on the child support modification, they can draft a stipulation and file it with the court. After the judge signs it, the modification will become valid.
If the parents do not agree, a parent can ask the court to modify the child support if there has been a change in circumstances. Most often, the court will use the child support guidelines to reevaluate the amount by factoring in the new information.
Examples of a change in events that could trigger the court to change a child support order include:
- The income of the parents has changed
- The parenting time has changed
- The financial needs of the child have changed
- The child is over 18 and has graduated from high school
Modifying Spousal Support
As with child custody and child support, the court can modify spousal support if there has been a change in circumstances. For example, maybe the person receiving support no longer needs it, or perhaps a party is not making a good-faith effort to be self-supporting. Additionally, spousal support ends in California if the spouse receiving support remarries.
A modification can be made either through agreement or by one party filing a motion with the court. It is important to act immediately if a situation arises that makes it necessary for you to modify a spousal support order — a new order is not retroactive and will only be valid from the date the judge signs it.
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