A Court-Ordered Change in Child Custody Arrangement Fuels Devastating Violence

courthouse-1330873-m.jpgAn article in the U-T San Diego describes a mother’s horrifying reaction to a court-ordered change to the family’s original child custody arrangement. After learning that a Georgia court ordered the woman to turn over her two children, ages 13 and 10, to her ex-husband, she allegedly fled to a California hotel and killed them. The police discovered evidence of poisoning in the hotel room where the children were found. Child custody disputes can trigger extreme emotions. Here, the court changed the custody arrangement, depriving the mother of her children. In California, certain conditions must exist before a court may change a custody order. An experienced, local family law attorney can help you to understand the circumstances under which a judge may effectuate such a change.

According to reports, the former couple had battled over custody matters for years. They were divorced in December 2007 after being married for less than 10 years. Court records indicate that the mother claimed that her former husband failed to make child support payments. In October 2009, the mother was granted full custody of the children. As recently as this September, a judge ordered joint custody and reduced child support payments. Soon after the judge issued this order, the mother moved to Arizona, stating that she received a job transfer. At a recent hearing on September 11, a judge found that the mother was alienating the children from her former husband, and rendered an order granting him full custody. She was supposed to hand over the children the following Sunday, which is what she told her ex-husband she would do. The children were found dead in the California hotel on Saturday.

Once a child custody order is in place, one or both parents may seek to modify or change the order. It is not uncommon for parents to find a need to renegotiate various parts of the parenting plan every two to three years or so. The original parenting plan can be affected by any number of factors, such as parents who find new partners, homes and/or jobs. Additionally, the children’s needs may change as they grow older and develop different interests. In an ideal situation, parents will agree to the needed changes, and simply modify the court order by using an agreement. However, if they cannot agree, one of the parents must file court papers asking for a change (also known as a “modification”) of the current child custody and visitation order.

In California, parties must show that there has been a “change in circumstances” since the final custody order was issued. Essentially, there must have been a significant change that necessitates creating a new custody and visitation arrangement for the best interest of the children. In the case described above, the judge found that there was “extreme parental alienation” on the part of the mother – requiring a change in the custody arrangement. It seems that no one involved with the family had any idea she would hurt the children.

Custody and visitation matters are very serious matters to consider. Families facing such issues are encouraged to seek the help of an experienced family law attorney as early in the case as possible to help sort through the many contentious issues that may arise.

Parents with questions about child custody matters may contact Doppelt & Forney. Mr. Doppelt is a knowledgeable family law attorney with more than 20 years of experience representing parents in Southern California. Doppelt & Forney serves clients in Linda Vista, Encinitas, Scripps Ranch, San Diego, and throughout Southern California. For a consultation with a dedicated family lawyer, contact Doppelt & Forney through the law firm’s website or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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