Many Californians assume that once a court has assigned custody of minor children to one parent in a divorce, the order either cannot be changed or is extremely hard to modify. In fact, a child custody order can be changed for several reasons. As children grow, for instance, their needs and interests may change and they might prefer being with the noncustodial parent. In addition, the priorities of parents often change, so a custodial parent may be willing to change custody in order to take a new job, move to a different part of the country or be with a new partner.
Parents should revisit their custody orders every three years or so. If both parents can agree on changes requested by one parent, then the custody order can be changed right away. If they cannot reach an agreement on a new custody order, then one parent may need to seek a child custody modification order in court. Either parent can meet with a mediator to explain why a change in the child-custody order is or is not needed.
A parent seeking a change in child custody must prove in court that the living situation for the parent or the children has changed substantially and that the requested change would meet the basic criterion of being in the best interests of the children. If a California court agrees that this is the case and the change will put children in the most stable environment possible, it will likely modify custody.
To change the child custody order, a parent will need apply in writing to the court and have any modification requests reviewed by the court before moving ahead with the case. Sometimes a facilitator familiar with family law can assist in drawing up the necessary court documents to get the custody order modified.
Source: Courts.CA.gov, "Changing a Custody Order," accessed on Dec. 3, 2014