In the areas of child custody, child visitation and child support, courts retain jurisdiction (i.e. power) to modify prior orders. In most cases, the court also retains jurisdiction to modify previous orders for spousal support, unless the prior order explicitly made the spousal support provisions “non-modifiable.” Most other orders contained in a family law judgment, such as provisions for the division of property, are fixed, and courts are powerless to change them, unless the document specifically provides for future modification, or unless both parties agree to a change.
In most situations, in order for a court to consider modifying a support order or a custody order, the moving party (the person seeking the change) must demonstrate that there has been a substantial change in the relevant circumstances now compared to the situation that existed when the last court order was made. For example, in seeking a modification of support one would have to show that the income of one of the parties or of both parties has changed in a significant way – up or down – or, in the case of child support, that the timeshare arrangement has been substantially altered in a way that would justify taking a new look at the support. With child support, one exception to this “change of circumstances” rule is where the parents previously agreed to a child support order that was below the statewide guideline; in that case, no change of circumstances must be substantiated to request that support be modified up to the guideline level.
In child custody or visitation, the general rule is that one must prove that the best interests of the child(ren) need changing in order to change the custodial arrangement. In some cases, a “substantial change of circumstances” must be proven for a court to modify visitation or custody.
If a California court made the original order, California courts may consider the request for modification. If the original custody or support order was made out-of-state, or out of the country, the question of whether a local court can change that order is more complicated. In those cases, it is especially important to consult with a qualified family law attorney about the specific facts and circumstances of the case to determine the answer.