The judge reads off the last sentence of the decree or you get your judgment packet back in the mail: the divorce process is over. After hours of battling for your possessions and the kids, you no longer have a spouse.
Part of you is relieved to have the process over with, but in the back of your mind, you still have doubts about the judge’s child custody decision.
This gets you thinking, are the judge’s decisions permanent, or are the agreements you made with your spouse permanent, or can they be changed down the road?
Making Child Custody Orders
Before we can talk about the permanence of court-ordered child custody arrangements, we must talk about the process of creating a custody order.
As stated on the Basics of Custody & Visitation Orders webpage, in a contested divorce the judge makes the final decision concerning a custody and visitation plan; however, California judges are likely to approve parenting plans that both parents agree to to on.
Therefore, if you and your child’s parent agree on a plan, the judge will usually accept it.
On the other hand, if both parties can’t agree on a parenting plan, the judge will have no choice but to enforce a decision during a court hearing. When making the final decision, the judge must grant custody according to what is in the “best interest of the child.”
Therefore, when it comes to court-ordered custody arrangements, the parent's desires are secondary to the court’s belief in the child’s best interest.
As a side note, a judge’s power to decide divorce outcomes is why it’s always best to reach an agreement with your spouse if possible.
Who knows your kids better, you or the Judge?
Are Court-Ordered Custody Orders Permanent?
Court-ordered custody orders are not necessarily permanent if one or both parents want to change the order currently in place.
Additionally, it will also depend on if you have a Montenegro clause (a legal clause that addresses more permanent custody and the need for changed circumstances to make a change in your agreement.) In some circumstances, parents may come to a consensus that a current court-ordered custody arrangement isn’t working.
For example, if one of the parents gets a new job and can’t care for their child as much as they could before, both parents can agree to change the court order.
We can usually draft this up together, have your child’s parent sign it, and then submit it to the Judge for signature!
In other circumstances, only one parent may want to change a court-ordered custody arrangement.
When this happens, the parent who wants to change the custody arrangement will have to prove to the judge that a custody change is in the best interest of the child.
Additionally, the parent will have to show that there has been a “change in circumstances” since the final custody order was made.
Depending on the circumstances, proving what’s in the best interest of the child to change a custody arrangement may be difficult, but it is possible.
A few of the reasons a judge may change a custody arrangement when contested by one of the parents:
- A parent is failing to fulfill their side of the custody arrangement;
- A parent is endangering the safety of their child;
- A child’s health is suffering due to one of the parent’s legal custody choices;
- Supervised visitation is no longer required or is now needed.
Changing a Court-Ordered Custody Arrangement
If you want to change a court-ordered custody arrangement, you should talk to an experienced family law attorney about your options.
A child custody attorney can give you insight into the probability of successfully changing a custody arrangement and can help you plead your case in court.
Attorney Andrea Schneider has had great success in helping her clients get the custody and visitation schedules that are right for them and their children. If you’re ready to talk to an attorney about your current court-ordered custody arrangement, call (619) 304-8499 now for a free consultation for your case!