Child custody is one of the most emotional aspects of any divorce or separation. But it’s important to understand that the custody arrangement entered into or ordered after a divorce can be modified at any time before the child turns 18. If there has been a substantial change in circumstances, a court may permit a modification changing the custodial parent in the custody agreement if it is in the best interests of the child.
What is a Custodial Parent?
The custodial parent, also sometimes referred to as the residential parent, is generally the parent with whom the children primarily live or spend most of their time. However, there are several types of custody arrangements that can be entered into, based on a family’s specific situation.
Custody can be sole and belong to one parent, which is often referred to as the custodial parent, or it can be shared between them. While physical custody refers to who is responsible for the child’s welfare, legal custody means which parent has the authority to make decisions concerning the child’s education, healthcare, and religious upbringing.
Significantly, even when custody is shared, the parent designated as the “custodial parent” remains responsible for the child’s daily needs.
When Should the Custodial Parent in a Custody Agreement Be Changed?
After a child custody agreement has been entered into or ordered by the court, it sometimes becomes necessary to seek a modification. If both parents consent to the change in the custody agreement, they can request the court approve the new agreement. But if the modification is contested, a judge will determine the outcome based on the child’s best interests.
There are several reasons why a California court may change the custodial parent in a custody agreement, including:
- Relocation of the custodial parent — In the event that a custodial parent decides to move with the child, the non-custodial parent may file a petition to change the agreement if they believe the move would be detrimental to the child or negatively impact parenting time.
- A parent’s refusal to follow the custody order — If the custodial parent refuses to abide by the order that is in place, the non-custodial parent can file a petition for a modification.
- The child’s needs have changed as they grew older — Over the course of 18 years, a child’s emotional or physical needs may change. If one parent is a better fit to care for the child as they get older, a modification may be warranted.
- The custodial parent is no longer able to care for the child — If the custodial parent is no longer able to care for the child based upon an addiction, substance abuse problem, or mental health condition, the child’s best interests may be served by residing with the other parent.
- The custodial parent’s work schedule has permanently changed — Sometimes, a custodial parent’s work schedule might make caring for the child’s daily needs very difficult. In such cases, it may be in the child’s best interests to change the custodial parent.
- The child’s welfare is in danger — If the custodial parent is abusive or engages in behavior that could place the child at risk of harm, a change in the custody arrangement may be justified.
At the modification hearing, the judge will review the facts of the case to render a determination. They may consider the testimony and evidence presented by each parent, any evaluations, and the child’s preferences, depending upon their age. In some cases, a guardian ad litem may be brought into the case to communicate the child’s wishes on their behalf.
Can Parenting Time Be Modified Without Changing the Custodial Parent?
It’s essential to be aware that there are many components to child custody. While there may be some parts of an order or agreement that you seek to change, you don’t necessarily have to change the entire custody arrangement. Sometimes, a modification may only be needed to adjust the parenting time schedule.
While it is necessary to show a substantial change in circumstances to make a change to physical or legal custody, the “best interests of the child” standard is applied to modifying parenting time. Significantly, modifying parenting time is not the same as changing the custody arrangement. If a parent wishes to alter the amount of time they spend with the child, a modification must still be requested, but there is no need to demonstrate that the circumstances in the case have changed.
Contact an Experienced Fresno Family Law Attorney
If you are seeking a child custody modification, it’s crucial to have an attorney on your side who can help you navigate the legal process and advocate for your rights. Providing compassionate counsel and knowledgeable representation, The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks works to achieve the best possible outcome for each client.
The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks has been assisting clients throughout Fresno and the surrounding area in their divorce and family law matters for more than 20 years. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559) 272-8359.