Family Law Modifications 101: How to Modify a Custody or Child Support Order

Which Family Law Orders Can Be Modified

In California, many family law orders can be modified when warranted. The most common modifications are those pertaining to child support, custody, and visitation. You can also seek a post-divorce modification of spousal support. It is important to note that modifications are not the same thing as enforcement actions, nor are they the same thing as appealing a decision.

Family law modifications are used in cases when a family's circumstances have changed significantly, rendering the original court order inadequate or no longer appropriate. Furthermore, for a modification request to be successful, the change in circumstances must also be one that is lasting and not temporary.

Reasons to Seek Modification of a Family Law Order

When the courts issue custody or support orders, they do so with the intention that the order is in the best interest of the children involved and that the order will serve the family in the long term. However, things change as time goes by, and a family or a child's needs will change.

Examples of reasons to seek a modification of your family law order include:

  • Relocation of a parent or the child
  • Loss of employment
  • A significant change in income
  • Retirement of a parent
  • Disability or other health issue comes to light
  • The needs of the child have changed
  • The birth of a child or a parent has a new dependent to provide for

As previously mentioned, for a modification request to be successful, the change in circumstances but be significant and long-term. You cannot request a modification to a family law order just because you don't agree with it or find it unfair.

How Modification Is Different from Enforcement

Unlike modifications, enforcement of family law orders (such as custody enforcement or child support enforcement) is used when someone has failed to adhere to their original court order. While modification can sometimes be used to resolve some of the issues that lead to enforcement actions, enforcement is only sought after someone has violated the order and is typically used as a last resort and when other resolution methods do not work.

Common enforcement methods include:

  • Wage garnishment
  • Tax refund withholding
  • Property liens
  • License suspension
  • Passport suspension
  • Contempt of court

If you are in a situation where your former spouse or child's other parent is refusing to adhere to a family court order (such as refusing to pay spousal support or refusing you court-ordered visitation with your child), you should contact an experienced attorney right away. Your lawyer can help you uncover your legal options and help you determine if enforcement is right for you.

How to Request a Modification to a Custody or Child Support Order

If you are in a situation where you need a modification of your custody or child support order, you have a couple of options regarding how to proceed. When you and your child's other parent agree on the changes that need to be made, you can work together to write up an agreement (with the help of your lawyers), which you then file with the courts for the judge's approval.

If you and your child's other parent don't initially agree, you can work together with your lawyers and/or a mediator to negotiate the changes that need to be made. If you can then agree, you can again proceed with writing up the agreement, submitting it to the courts for approval.

In situations where you require a modification, but you and your child's other parent can't come to an agreement, you will have to file a request for modification with the courts and will have to attend a hearing. In cases like these, the courts may also require you and your child's other parent to attend mediation before the hearing.

When Not to Request a Modification

Before requesting a modification to your child support or custody order, you should ask yourself this: is my change in circumstances significant and lasting? Modifications are used to help families deal with substantial changes in their circumstances, whether that be a parent's circumstances or the child's needs. Modifications are not to be used for small issues that can be resolved out of court and which aren't lasting.

Do I Need an Attorney to Request a Modification?

Regardless of whether you and your child's other parent agree on the modifications being requested, it is important that you work with an experienced family law attorney like ours at Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich. Even when parents agree on modifications, several forms must be filed with the courts. Furthermore, before agreeing to modifications, you should have your agreement reviewed by your attorney to ensure that you and your family's best interests are protected.

Our attorneys have helped many families with the modification process in Riverside County, and we can use our experience to help you and your family. Send us a message online to schedule a consultation with one of our lawyers.


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