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Showing just cause for child custody modification

On Behalf of | Apr 3, 2024 | child custody

Like many California parents, you may have been relieved when you finalized your divorce — ready to leave the past behind and move forward in life with your children. You understood that you would always have a connection to your ex because of the kids but felt confident that you had achieved a fair settlement and were both willing to cooperate on child-related issues. Your child custody plan was solid; at least, until life changes made it no longer feasible.

The court understands that life events (sometimes quite unexpected but not always) can impede your ability to adhere to the terms of the agreement you signed for child custody in your divorce. The judge overseeing your case may act at the court’s discretion to modify those terms. However, since the court makes child custody decisions carefully and with children’s best interests in mind, any parent requesting modification must show just cause.

What does it mean to show just cause for child custody modification?

When the judge issued a child custody order in your case, he or she made the decision with your children’s best interests in mind. Therefore, if you’re going to ask the court to modify the terms of the agreement, you must convince the judge that the existing terms are either no longer in your children’s interest or that you are no longer able to fulfill your obligations.

You must have a legitimate reason for asking the court to modify a custody order. Providing information or evidence to demonstrate this reason is known as “showing just cause.”

Examples of just cause for requesting modification

When you file a petition for child custody modification, you’ll want to include documentation that helps show just cause. The following list includes several legitimate reasons why a family court judge might grant such a request:

  • Job change or work schedule change
  • Relocating
  • Children at risk

Documentation to support requests involving these issues might include things like a copy of your work schedule or pay stub from a new employer. If you have reason to believe that your kids are at risk, you must provide evidence, which might include written testimony from a witness, photographs (of an unexplained injury on a child, for example) or any other proof that substantiates your allegations.

The existing court order remains in effect unless the judge grants your request

It’s imperative to understand that, unless and until the judge issues a child custody modification order, the existing terms of agreement remain in effect. You can’t place them on hold while you file a petition for modification. Both you and your ex must adhere to the existing terms of agreement, no matter what.

If you believe your child is at risk, you can request an emergency protection order. In some cases, a judge may issue a temporary order of protection less than 24 hours after receiving the request. It’s always best to seek experienced guidance when you’re planning to file a child custody modification petition.