There are state laws applicable to every aspect of a family law case. The California Family Code governs actions for divorce, spousal support, child custody, and many of the attendant issues to be resolved. Courts interpret such laws in light of the facts and evidence presented in each case. For this reason alone, it is important to understand how these myriad legal provisions may affect your family’s rights now and in the future. An experienced family law lawyer from the local San Diego area would be able to guide you through the California divorce process as seamlessly as possible.
One of the highly regulated areas of family law concerns the physical and legal custody of children. Courts are guided by the following principle: which arrangement promotes the best interests of the child. Under the law, custody orders may be modified if the parent seeking the modification can show that there has been a “change in circumstances” sufficient to warrant the modification. In a recent custody case, the father lived in California, and the mother lived in Virginia. The court entered a permanent custody order giving the father (a Bay Area resident) physical custody of the child during the school year and the mother physical custody during the summer.
The court’s order explained that since the mother’s family (parents and sister) lived in the Bay Area, she would have a place to stay while visiting the child. The order also indicated that should the mother’s family relocate from the Bay Area, this factor (among others) would be “changed circumstances” warranting further analysis of the custody arrangement. Not even a year later, the mother filed with the court a request to modify the custody order, arguing that her parents had moved to Virginia and that under the custody order, their relocation should be regarded as changed circumstances, necessitating a re-examination of the child’s best interests. The father opposed the request.
A different judge from the judge who issued the original custody order heard the modification request. This judge denied the mother’s request, finding that the circumstances had not changed, and awarded the father sanctions under Section 271 of the Family Code. The mother appealed, claiming that the court’s denial of her request was inconsistent with the permanent custody order. The court of appeals reviewed the statutory provisions, the case law interpreting such language, and the unique facts presented in this case. Under California law, the court noted that a modification of custody is appropriate only if there is evidence that a “significant change in circumstances” would require that the custody order be modified to satisfy the best interests of the child.
The court concluded that the statement found in the custody order identifying “changed circumstances” that would require a reevaluation of the custody arrangement was not binding on subsequent judges. Furthermore, the court found no abuse of discretion in the second judge’s determination that the mother failed to show a change in circumstances warranting a modification. Among other things, the court noted that there was evidence to support a finding that the mother’s parents had not actually relocated. Even if they had, the court did not find that such a relocation constituted a substantial change requiring a reexamination of the child’s best interests.
Here, the court cited the “paramount need for continuity and stability in custody arrangements.” As this case illustrates, a court’s determination of one’s parental rights can dramatically affect a family’s future. If you are facing a divorce or a related legal matter, you are encouraged to seek the guidance of an experienced family law attorney as early in the process as possible. Roy M. Doppelt is a seasoned divorce attorney who has more than 20 years of experience assisting clients in San Diego and throughout the State of California with all of their child custody needs. To schedule a free confidential consultation, call Doppelt & Forney toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748), or contact us through the law firm’s website.
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