Child custody in California is enforced by court orders, the violation of which can result in a contempt of court charge or even jail time. So what happens when circumstances change such that the existing child custody order no longer makes sense? Fortunately, the California family court system offers a process for modifying a child support order. Like many things in life, however, there is an easy way and a hard way to go about it.

The Easy Way: Mutual Agreement

The easiest way to modify a California child custody order is to reach an agreement with the other spouse. The agreement must be put into writing, both parents must sign it, and it must be submitted to the family court judge. The judge will evaluate the request based on the “best interests of the child” standard, and if he approves it, he will sign it. The agreement then becomes legally binding on both parents.

The Hard Way: Allege a Change in Circumstances

If you cannot reach an agreement with the other parent, you will need to proceed unilaterally by alleging a change in circumstances that justifies modification of the current custody arrangements. This procedure is essentially adversarial although the court may have both parents meet together with a mediator in an attempt to reach an agreement before an adversarial hearing takes place.

Examples of Changes in Circumstances

California family courts will not accept just any change in circumstances as justification for modifying a child custody order. The following are some examples of typical changes in circumstances that might motivate a court to modify a child custody order:

  • The child’s primary residence is or has become unsafe in some way (including psychologically).

  • One parent has become unable to comply with the child custody order due to being convicted of a crime.

  • The parent with primary physical custody has failed to adequately provide for the child’s needs.

  • One parent needs to change residences (due to a job offer, for example), and the new residence is some distance away from the child’s primary residence.

  • The child has grown older and wishes to change custody arrangements (the judge is not bound to accept the child’s wishes, however).

  • One parent has become unable to care for the child due to the onset of an illness.


To modify a California child custody order without an agreement with the other parent, you will need to fill out certain forms such as Form FL-300, file the forms with the court clerk, have a third person personally notify the other parent of the proceedings, and attend a hearing. The court might require you to attend mediation before the hearing.

This is a job that must be done right.

A single error in filing for child custody modification could result in significant delay or in modifications that were different than what you expected. Your application could even be turned down. Call CKB Vienna now, or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation so that we can help you give it your best shot. We serve clients in Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County, Orange County, and Riverside County.