After a judge makes a custody and visitation order, 1 or both parents may want to change the order.
There are many good reasons why a parenting plan may need to be changed. As the children get older, for example, their needs, interests, and activities change. And as each of the parents moves on with his or her separate life, new partners, new jobs, or new homes can all mean that the parenting plan needs to be changed.
Parents may need to renegotiate portions of their parenting agreement every 2 ½ to 3 years. If the parents agree on the changes, they can change their court order by using an agreement. But if the parents cannot agree on the changes, 1 of the parents must file papers with the court asking for a change (a “modification”) of your current child custody and visitation order. If you want to change your order, you and the other parent will probably have to meet with a mediator to talk about why you want the order to change before you go to the court hearing.
Asking for a change of the custody and visitation order
- You have to show that there has been a “change in circumstances” since the final custody order was made. This means that there has been a significant change that requires a new custody and visitation arrangement for the best interest of the children.
- The reason there has to be a significant change is that it is best for children to have stable and consistent custody arrangements with their parents. Final custody orders should only be changed if it would be best for the children.
- Ask your mediator at Family Court Services to make sure you do not have to go to mediation before you file any papers.
To ask for a court hearing to change your existing custody and visitation order:
- Fill out your court forms
Fill out the Request for Order (Form FL-300). You can use the Information Sheet for Request for Order (Form FL-300-INFO) for information.Ask your family law facilitator if you need to check the boxes for “Court Order” and item 4 on FL-300.
You can also fill out the Child Custody and Visitation Application Attachment (Form FL-311). It is an optional form (you do not have to use it), but you may find it helpful in making sure you do not leave anything out of your request. It contains a lot of detail about schedules for visits, holidays, and other details that can help you as you try to prepare a new parenting plan that is best for your children.
In your paperwork, explain why you think it is necessary to make a change to the existing order. If you have prepared a parenting plan or proposal for the new custody and visitation arrangement and you would like the judge to consider making your plan the court’s order, attach that too.
- Have your forms reviewed
If your court’s family law facilitator helps people with custody and visitation cases, ask them to review your paperwork. They can make sure you filled it out properly before you move ahead with your case.
You can also hire your own lawyer to review your papers or to get legal advice, either with your entire case, or just the parts of it that you may need more help with (called “limited scope representation” or “unbundling”). Click for help finding a lawyer. Click to learn more about “limited scope representation.”
- Make at least 2 copies of all your forms
One copy will be for you; another copy will be for your child’s other parent. The original is for the court.
- File your forms with the court clerk
The clerk will keep the original for the court and return the 2 copies to you, stamped “Filed.” You will have to pay a filing fee. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver.
- Get your court date or mediation date
The clerk will probably give you a court date. You may have to meet with the mediator before the court date or go to a mediation orientation. Ask the clerk if you are not sure.
- Serve your papers on the other parent
Have someone (NOT you) serve the other parent with a copy of your papers and a blank Responsive Declaration to Request for Order (Form FL-320) before your court date. Look at the front of Form FL-300 to see if the court ordered you to serve any other documents. Click for more information about “service."
- If you filed a Request for Order (Form FL-300) with the box for "Court Order" and Item 4 checked, your papers MUST be served in person at least 16 court days before your court date.
- If you filed a Request for Order (Form FL-300) with NO check marks on the box for "Court Order" nor on Item 4, you can probably serve the other parent (and the LCSA if involved) by mail. But if you serve by mail, you must do it at least 16 court days before the hearing plus 5 calendar days for mailing. Ask the family law facilitator or self-help center if you are not sure if you can serve your papers by mail.
- File your Proof of Service
Have your server fill out a Proof of Personal Service (Form FL-330) and give it to you so you can file it with the court. It is very important your server fills out the Proof of Service correctly. If possible, have your family law facilitator review it to make sure it was filled out properly. If the papers were served by mail, have your server fill out a Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335) instead.
- Go to your mediation and court hearing
Go to mediation before your court date if the rules in your local court require it. If you do not reach an agreement in mediation, go to your court hearing, and take a copy of all your papers and your Proof of Service.
Keep in mind that some local courts require parents to attend an orientation before they go to mediation. You probably already went to orientation before you got your first custody order. Your court may want you to go again or may tell you that you do not need to. Talk to the clerk to make sure you know what you are supposed to do about orientation.
You may be able to resolve your custody and visitation issues in mediation with the help of a trained mediator. If you do, the mediator will probably help you write up an agreement that the judge may sign, making it a court order. If you do not reach an agreement in mediation, you will both go in front of the judge so he or she can make a decision in your case or, in counties where there is "child custody recommending counseling," the counselor will make a recommendation to the judge. Find out more about custody mediation. To get an overview of the child custody and visitation process, read:
To prepare for your mediation and your court hearing, think about the changes that have happened since your last custody and visitation order, and what type of new parenting plan would be best for your children. In doing that, it may be helpful for you to look at these forms, which contain a lot of information about issues that may come up in custody cases:
See Going to Court to read more information about how to prepare for your court hearing.
After the court hearing
Once the judge makes a decision at the court hearing, he or she will sign a court order. In some courtrooms, the clerk or court staff will prepare this order for the judge’s signature. In other courtrooms, it is the responsibility of the person who asked for the hearing to prepare the court order for the judge to sign. If either side has a lawyer, the lawyer will usually be asked to prepare the order.
If you have to prepare this order, you will need to fill out the Findings and Order After Hearing (Form FL-340), and the Child Custody and Visitation Order Attachment (Form FL-341). You may also need other custody and visitation forms like Forms FL-341(A), FL-341(B), FL-341(C), FL-341(D), or FL-341(E). And if there were any other orders made, like child support, those forms have to be filled out and attached, too.
Remember, the family law facilitator may be able to help you with these forms. So, ask the facilitator for help or have him or her review the forms to make sure you did not make any mistakes.