Do I Need to Go to Court to Change/Modify My California Child Custody Order?

If there is one clear dividing line between people’s experiences of the current stay-at-home quarantine orders in California, it would be whether or not you suddenly have school-age children home with you all day. Parents with young kids who would otherwise be in school Monday through Friday are finding themselves having to balance their own work and personal responsibilities with taking on the role of teacher, principal, counselor, lunch provider, janitor, not to mention playmate with their kids who are away from school for months with no end in sight. Middle schoolers and high schoolers come with a different set of needs that require attention.

For parents who live separately and have a court-ordered custody arrangement, this new COVID-19 normal may be reason to rethink what was an otherwise workable custody schedule for the children. One parent may be working extra hours in an ER or a grocery store that does not allow them to be at home with a newly home-schooled child, and it may not even be wise for the child to be spending significant time with a parent working on the front lines of the pandemic. Another parent may be now out of work and with significantly more time to devote to providing care, education, and companionship to children stuck at home. And changed circumstances such as these may be reason for a modification of custody, even on a temporary basis.

A Temporary Modification of Custody May Be in the Best Interests of Your Child

California child custody law is based on the bedrock principle that custody arrangements should serve the best interests of the child, and that circumstances can change over time such that a custody schedule that was in the best interest of the child a year ago may not be so now. If you have a current, court-ordered custody schedule now, you probably already know that both parents have the right to go back to court to request a modification of the custody arrangement (which can include a corresponding change of child support to reflect the new arrangement).

But do you have to go back to court to change your custody schedule to better serve the needs of your child during this time when it appears we may not fully return to “normal” for some time? Not necessarily, especially if the parents are committed to working together to serve their kids’ needs. Parents can work together to create an out-of-court stipulated agreement and order to modify their custody schedule (and child support), and such an agreement can be crafted to be in place on a non-permanent basis to reflect the parents’ COVID-19 related circumstances. Reaching a stipulated agreement not only avoids the cost and drama of court, but can also provide relief much more quickly than going to court, as California courts have pushed back hearings for months, and filing a new request for an order to modify custody may not be heard by a judge for quite some time. So, dig in to your creative mind and figure out how to sort things out. When both parents work together the kids benefit and it bestows calm in an otherwise chaotic time.

Why Working With an Attorney to Assist in Your COVID-19 Related Modification Can Be Helpful

While there are some divorced or unmarried co-parents who have no problem managing working out any differences they might have regarding custody, and can adjust schedules and support without ever having a concern about legal issues, many other co-parents are not so lucky.

If you are going to change your custody arrangement, it is wise to create an agreement reflecting the changes which will then be submitted to the court, and thus be enforceable. Having an attorney involved with this process can not only assist in ensuring that the agreement is accurate and enforceable, but can also serve to protect a parent’s interests when circumstances do get back to “normal.” After all, in the same way that a custody arrangement reached two years ago may not make sense now, you do not want to enter into an agreement now in which you unwittingly waive rights and make concessions that will be hard to undo a year from now.

Furthermore, an attorney can help you understand what issues you should be thinking about regarding custody in the current circumstances and address future concerns that may not have occurred to you, while also working with you to negotiate with the other parent to reach an agreement that works for both you and your child.

As always, working with a mediator to settle custody issues – including modifications to custody – can be a beneficial process to avoid court while working with a neutral third party who can speak to the concerns of all parties involved, and online mediation is available to assist parents from the comfort and safety of their own homes. It doesn’t matter if you live in Thousand Oaks or Agoura Hills, Calabasas or Camarillo. Online mediation can be used anywhere across the State of California where both parents agree to the process.

Guidance on Your California Family Law Questions From a Westlake Village Family Law Attorney

If you would like to learn more about how our office can provide guidance on any California family law issues you are facing in Ventura County or Los Angeles County, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at (805) 777-7740 or (818) 877-0001, or schedule your strategy session using easy-to-use online form here.