When talking about custody of children, there are two kinds of custody; legal and physical.
Legal custody gives a parent or parents the power to make decisions about the children’s health, education and welfare. This includes deciding where the children go to school or whether they should get braces on their teeth. If the parents share joint legal custody, both parents can ask schools and doctors for information about the children.
Physical custody refers to the physical time the children spend with each parent on a regular basis. For example, the children may be with one parent on school days and the other on weekends plus a mid-week dinner visit. Joint physical custody is a good choice for parents who can agree on a plan on their own or with a mediator’s help. It requires cooperation, flexibility and good communication between the parents.
However, what if you already have joint physical and legal custody of your children with another parent, but want to gain full legal and/or physical custody of the children? There are many good reasons why a custody order may need to be changed. If the other parent agrees on the changes, both parents can change their court order by using an agreement filed directly with the court. But if the parents cannot agree on the changes, the parent seeking the changes must file the required paperwork with the court asking for a change of the current child custody order. In California, most courts will require both parents to meet with a mediator to talk about why they want to change the order before the court hearing.
Generally, the court will want to see that there has been a change in circumstances since the final custody order was made. The court will ask you to explain what significant change or changes have occurred that require a new custody arrangement for the best interest of the children.
Here are the simple steps required to change a custody order in Los Angeles:
1. Fill out your court forms
The first required form is Request for Order (Form FL-300). The Child Custody and Visitation Application Attachment (Form FL-311) is an optional form that can be filed as well. It contains a lot of detail about schedules for visits, holidays, and other details that can help as you try to prepare a new parenting plan that is best for your children. This is where you will need to explain why you think it is necessary to make a change to the existing order. Also, if you have prepared a parenting plan or proposal for the new custody arrangement, attach that too.
If you do not have a child custody lawyer, you will want to find a family law court facilitator or other similar service to review the forms you have filled out. You’ll want to make at least three copies of the forms before filing with the court. One set will be for the court, one set for you, and one set for the other parent in the
2. File the forms with the court clerk
The clerk will keep the original for the court and return the two copies with stamps indicating the forms have been filed. There will be a filing fee and most courts accept credit card these days. There are also fee waivers available if you do not have an attorney and your income is low.
3. Get your court date or mediation date
At the time you file your paperwork, the clerk will likely give you a court date. If the clerk does not give you a court date, you will have to wait for a letter in the mail indicating when your court date has been set. You may have to meet with the mediator before the court date or go to a mediation orientation. Ask the clerk if you are not sure.
4. Serve your papers on the other parent
If you have a child custody attorney, he or she will serve the papers for you. However, if you are filing the case yourself, have someone else serve the other parent with a copy of your papers and a blank Responsive Declaration to Request for Order (Form FL-320) before your court date. You may serve the papers by mail or in person, but if you serve by mail, it must be done at least 16 court days before the hearing plus 5 calendar days for mailing. (Note that if you filed a Request for Order (Form FL-300) with the box for “Court Order” and Item 4 checked, your papers MUST be served in person at least 16 court days before your court date).
5. File your Proof of Service
Again, if you have a child custody attorney, they will file the proof of service for you. If you are filing yourself, you will need the person who served the papers to fill out a Proof of Personal Service (Form FL-330) and give it to you so you can file it with the court.
6. Go to the mediation meeting and court hearing
Be sure to bring all the paperwork you filed to the mediation along with any other support you need to prove your case. If you do not reach an agreement in mediation, go to your court hearing, and take a copy of all your papers and your Proof of Service.