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When can I ask a court to change my custody order?

Many couples in the Los Angeles area who live apart may come to an agreement about their custody and parenting time plans before they ever see the inside of a courtroom, while a handful will ultimately have a judge make such decisions for them.

The good news, or bad news depending on how one looks at it, is that these orders are not as permanent as, for example, court agreements and orders about how a divorcing couple divides up their property.

The reason is that a California court hearing custody matters has an ongoing obligation to look out for the best interests of the children involved, and these interests can change over time as their own life circumstances, as well as those of their parents, continue to evolve.

This does not, however, mean that a parent can ask for a change in custody or parenting time for any reason whatsoever. California law favors stability in custody arrangements, and courts will be reluctant to change custody over what they see as minor or fleeting changes in the child's life or routine.

Instead, in order to obtain a change, the parent will have to show that circumstances have changed significantly, to the point that the current order is no longer in the best interests of the children. The parent will also have to show that the change he or she proposes is what is best for the children. Other requirements, including mandatory mediation, may apply as well.

Changing a child custody order in California is not automatic, but it can and should be done when one's child truly could benefit from the change. Usually, it is a good idea to get the help of an experienced family law attorney when doing so.

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