California allows family court judges to make legally binding orders setting forth who will have legal and physical custody of a child. That order must be observed until such a time as it is altered or superseded by a new order. It is common for parents and other custodial individuals to renegotiate the terms of their child custody every two or three years.
Evolving circumstances as the child grows and the parents move through their lives may make it wise to revise the terms of visitation, child support or custody. If there is agreement between the parents and any other people involved, then they may petition the court to change their old order accordingly. However, if there is a dispute or disagreement as to any aspect, then one of the parents will have to request a modification from the court.
California courts will usually require the individuals involved to meet with a mediator before going before the judge. Every effort will be made to solve the problem or problems without involving the court. If that fails, then the petitioning parent will have to go to court and demonstrate exactly how the circumstances have changed. They will have to show how the changing situation affects the child and informs their parenting plan.
The best interests of the child will always be the primary concern in any custody dispute or other child-related decision that the court is empowered to make. The stability and comfort of the child's current living situation will be maintained in cases where the court can see it to be at all possible. An attorney's assistance may be welcome to those who wish to show how their parenting plan best suits the needs of the child.
Source: Judicial Council of California, "Changing a Custody Order", accessed on Jan. 12, 2015