In some family court cases, one or both parents may be dissatisfied or disappointed with the ultimate child custody arrangement ordered by the court. Parents may challenge a custody order through a legal process in the San Diego court system. There are important procedural steps to take, and most of these items must be done in a timely manner. Failing to do so could eliminate a parent’s right to contest the court’s parenting plan. Anyone who is confronting a child custody matter or dispute is encouraged to contact an experienced, local family law attorney who can guide you through the sometimes-complicated process.
In a recent California case, the court of appeals concluded that the father was foreclosed from appealing custody and visitation orders that were rendered in February 2008 and February 2011. The father also sought to appeal a third custody order that was handed down in June 2012. While the father filed this last appeal on time, the court held that he failed to establish that “changed circumstances” required a modification. In accordance with California case law, a court has no obligation to reexamine past custody decisions. In fact, a court is expected to “preserve the established mode of custody unless some significant change in circumstances indicates that a different arrangement would be in the child’s best interests…”
In order to overturn the trial court’s custody determination, the appellant must show that the court abused its discretion in rendering the decision. The father alleged that the mother had a history of interfering with visitation and communication. Here, based on the evidence presented, the trial court failed to detect a meaningful change in circumstances necessitating a modification of the custody order. The court of appeals pointed out that there was only a single instance of interference with visitation and that would not serve as a basis for changing the custody order.
The father also sought modifications to the visitation arrangement and argued that the court applied the wrong standard to his request. The standard to change visitation is different from a modification in custody. In California, courts may change the visitation arrangement based on the best interests of the children, without additional proof of a significant change in circumstances. The court of appeals held that the lower court understood that a significant change in circumstances was not needed to support modifications to visitation orders, and applied the correct standard as it modified the prior visitation order in two ways (requiring the mom the use Skype so that the father could see his children while communicating, and changing the place of exchange to accommodate the mom). Because this is an unpublished opinion, parties may not cite or rely on it in future cases. However, the ruling and underlying reasoning may inform legal arguments in cases involving similar facts.
It is not uncommon for parents to seek to modify an existing custody and visitation order every couple of years. The requested changes often reflect the needs of the children as they grow older and their activities and schedules change. Also, a parent may find a new job or residence that necessitates a move and possibly a change in visitation. There are many complicated and emotional issues that can arise in establishing a custody and visitation arrangement. Parties should consult with an experienced family law attorney who can help protect their rights with an eye to serving the best interests of the children.
If you are a parent with questions about child custody matters, contact Doppelt & Forney. Mr. Doppelt is an experienced family law attorney and has been representing parents involved in child custody disputes for more than 20 years. Doppelt & Forney serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).
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