In California, parents may petition a court to modify a child custody order for various reasons. Many things can change over the course of a child’s life, including one’s needs, interests and activities. Further, parents may find new jobs and new homes, which could also prompt a need for modification. In determining whether the petition for change is warranted, the court will look at whether the parent requesting the modification has shown that there has been a “change in circumstances” since the final custody order was made. Courts in San Diego and throughout the state must be sure that changing the order will be in the best interests of the child. A local, experienced family law attorney would be able to advise parents under what circumstances a court is likely to permit a modification.
In a recent case, a mother asked a court to modify the child custody order, requesting, among other things, that her son not be permitted to travel to Australia to visit the father. The mother and son live in San Diego. The child was born in 2006 and the parents were divorced in 2008. The court awarded both parents joint legal custody of the boy, although the mom retained primary physical custody – at 60 percent of the time and the father, 40 percent. From the spring of 2010 through the fall of 2012, the father had no in-person contact with his son. During that time period, the father had been living in Australia.
At some point, the father expressed interest in coming back to San Diego to resume regular contact with the child. The mother thought this would be detrimental to their son and filed a request for order and asked for sole legal and physical custody. The parents met with the court’s family court services, which ultimately did not forbid the child from traveling to Australia to visit his father, but indicated it was something that could possibly be arranged in the future. During the hearing, the mom opposed her son traveling to Australia, arguing that the father had no in-person contact with their child for the previous two years and that he did not have a job.
The family court issued an order modifying custody, among other things, removing the possibility of the child traveling to Australia at least until June 2014, when the issue could be considered at a review hearing. The father appealed this issue and other custody-related rulings. The appellate court affirmed the decision, finding that the court did not abuse its discretion in preventing the boy from traveling out of the country. The court reasoned that the family court was mainly concerned about the father’s extended absence as a parent in the child’s life. The court was also concerned about the young boy traveling to Australia alone. Based on these issues, the court concluded that the family court could have reasonably found that it was not in the child’s best interests to allow visitation with the father in another country, at this point in time.
Understanding how a court will view what is in the best interests of a child is integral to virtually every child custody case. An experienced family law attorney will be able to guide parents through this sometimes-complicated analysis, with solid awareness of how the local courts will view the circumstances of their family situation.
Roy M. Doppelt 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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