10 Reasons to Modify Child Custody California

Life is ever changing, nothing lasts forever, so they say. Of course this is no different for parents who may need modifications to current custody orders. 

When these changes are inevitable, one parent may seek the court to modify orders that no longer serve the best interests of the child, or have become nearly impossible to adhere to. 

If the judge is satisfied with the need for change, the court will consider and approve the changes after a scheduled hearing. 

Section 3087, Chapter 4 of the California Family Code allows the modification of an order for joint custody when one parent petitions the court to have the order modified or terminated. This can happen due to significant changes that have happened since the first order was issued. 

It is also valuable to note that the modifications only happen before the child turns 18 years old. After that, it is not possible for the court to deal with custody of a child who is now a legal adult, according to California Family Code 3022

Before the changes are accepted by the court, a parent seeking to have the changes put in place must provide substantial reasons for modifications for consideration by the court. These reasons may include:

1. Need for Relocation by One Parent

Either of the parents may need to relocate due to employment or even after remarrying. For the non-custodial parent, he or she may seek to have adjustments made by the court on visitation to suit his or her new location that may be near or far off from the current place of residence. 

For the custodial parent, the issue of relocation may be contested by the other parent who may refuse to have the other parent move with the child. However, California Family Code Section 7501 provides that a parent who is the custodian of the child has a right to change the residence of the child with the consent of the court. In this situation, the custodial parent may seek to move away in order for the court to allow him or her to change locations. 

While in the same note, Section 3020 of the same Family Code strives to ensure that the child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents, and when conflict arises, court order regarding visitation and physical legal custody shall be made and in a manner that promotes the interests of the child or children. 

In this regard, any parent who may be affected may seek the court to have modifications made to suit the new changes in location. 

2. Changes in The Needs of The Child 

The needs of the child may change as the child grows. 

This will require the parents to review the custody agreement and plan accordingly. When the child joins clubs, sports, starts driving, and starts working, new parameters will need to be drawn up.

As the child transitions from one stage to another, he or she may have limited time for both parents and in some cases, he or she may spend more time in school or with friends. 

Such changes may significantly affect the visitation custody orders that were previously issued and thus the need for modification. 

3. Mutual Agreements by The Parents 

If both parents have seen the need for change, they can agree on areas that need to be modified and present the proposed changes to the judge for approval. 

This is one of the easiest and less expensive ways to modify child custody in California, and other states as well. 

Mutual agreements are always the best option since it serves the best interests of the child rather than that of the parents. 

Agreements can be reached through negotiation or mediation where a third party mediator is involved in guiding the two parties to resolution on issues that may arise regarding the changes proposed by one party. 

These agreements can also be reached in presence of a notary and then presented to the judge for approval. 

4. Changes in Circumstances 

This could be as a result of job loss by one of the parents or a situation where a parent is getting re-married. Job loss may force one parent to move or take a new job with different hours. 

If new partners are becoming part of the picture, there may need to be some changes made to the court order as well. 

5. if The Child Is in Danger 

One of the key considerations that any court considers before granting any parent physical custody is the safety of the child. 

If the custodial parent subjects the child to a harmful environment or behaviors, the non-custodial parent can seek the court to have those orders modified to protect the child. 

A child who is subjected to harmful environmental, physical, sexual, and psychological abuse is considered to be in danger and that is a serious matter when presented in a family court, often prompting the attention of child family services.

A parent who feels the other parent is subjecting him or her  to harm can seek the court to have current custody orders terminated or revised. 

6. One Parent Does Not Obey Custody Orders 

Both parents must comply with the custody orders that have been issued by the court upon the decisions on child custody cases. 

If one of the parents is reluctant to obey the court orders, the other parent can seek to have the custody terms changed to suit the current situation. 

Apart from seeking the court to modify child custody, it is also important to note that failure to comply or obey the court orders is treated as contempt of the court and this may affect parenting time, and possibly attract fines or even imprisonment.

7. Child’s Preferences

Child preferences are important in a child custody case or modification but not absolute. 

As a child grows, their opinion starts to matter more to the court with each passing year. Young boys who felt comforted by mom, start wanting to spend more time with the father as they mature. 

This may be against what had already been issued by the court and when this happens, a parent may seek the court to make changes to accommodate the needs and preferences of the child. 

In addition, after reaching a certain age, a child may want to live with the non-custodial parent for any number of reasons. 

This is a situation that will require the parents to seek changes or modifications to the existing custody order directly on behalf of the child. 

8. Child Neglect by One of The Parents 

Child neglect is one of the more serious matters facing the court. Just like domestic violence and abuse, child neglect would necessitate the need for child custody modifications. 

If a custodial parent is found to have ignored the safety and protection of the child by neglecting him or her, the non-custodial parent can file for modifications with the court. 

If the court finds sufficient evidence that indeed the custodial parent is guilty of neglect, the custody of the child may be shifted to the other parent who is seeking changes. 

Child neglect can come in different forms. This can include:

Physical Neglect 

This is where the parent fails to provide for the physical necessities of the child such as food, clothing, or shelter. Also, in a very literal sense, leaving the child alone and unsupervised clearly counts as neglect. 

Physical neglect is a serious matter that may lead to the earlier custody order being terminated by the court. 

Emotional Neglect 

This is where the parent denies the child of the emotional support they need for their well-being. 

When the child feels ignored, isolated, or threatened, he or she may suffer emotionally and is one of the grounds for the other parent to seek modifications. 

Educational and Medical Neglect 

ignoring attention to the needs of the child regarding healthcare and education is considered a serious matter before the court. 

This may result in the child dropping out of school due to the failure of the parent to monitor and encourage school participation or being subjected to life-threatening illnesses by the failure of the parent to care for medical needs. 

Any form of neglect is enough to warrant termination of a custody order that had been previously issued if the other parent seeks such modifications. But keep in mind, the Judge will confirm the other parent is not engaged in the same practice.

9. One Parent Develops a Physical or Mental Illness 

Physical and mental wellness sometimes become uncertain. When one parent, whether custodial or non-custodial parent develops any form of illness, it may affect the custody schedule in place. 

An ailing parent may no longer be able to pick up the child at times that had been set or agreed to prior to getting medical treatment in a hospital. 

This would typically justify a temporary order until the parent is feeling better, and able to resume the normal schedule.

For more permanent physical or mental illnesses, a parent who is in good health may request the court to have custody terms changed to suit the current situation permanently. 

If that parent is considered fit to carry on the custody of the child, the court is likely to approve the changes, especially if they are not contested. 

10. One Parent Dies 

In an event of the death of the custodial parent, it would be easier in shared custody for the other parent to assume full custody of the child. 

That will require the living parent to request modifications of the custody order and have him or her assume the physical and legal custody of the child. 

The same can also apply if the non-custodial parent dies. The custodial parent can also seek the court to have the custody order revised. 

It may seem unnecessary, since the other parent is now gone, but there are many situations that can arise from third party influences that should be guarded against.

How to Modify Child Custody Agreements in California 

Modifying custody in California is not much different from that of other states. The easiest way is through the agreements of the two parties. 

If both parents have agreed to have modifications in certain areas, they can file for modifications with any California family court, and have them approved. Once approved, the order becomes enforceable. 

If one of the parents is not satisfied with the grounds for changes, the party who files for modification must provide sufficient reasons for modifications, and the court may conduct a hearing before a decision is made. 

If the grounds are sufficient to warrant a change, the court would approve the application for modification, and the new custody order reflecting the changes will be issued. 

It is also important to note that filing for modifications does not necessarily need the services of an attorney. However, an attorney would be helpful when the other party is not content with the proposed custody changes. 


Child custody modification is usually inevitable. As parents, you should discuss the areas of modifications to make it easier for both of you to have better parenting time with the child while promoting the interests of the child. 

If you can’t agree, there are other options available before rushing to court. Not to mention, the court may order parents to exhaust all other options, including mediation, before asking the court to rule.

As we have discussed, there are a good number of reasons that would necessitate changes in child custody. It only requires one parent to have valid reasons for change to be considered by a judge. 

Where possible, you may opt to work with a lawyer to make things easier especially if the other parent is resistant to changes.