Yes, you could potentially modify your child custody arrangement without going to court in Los Angeles. Many different factors will play a role in whether this is possible in your particular case. A court-ordered custody arrangement is legally binding. You or your lawyer will need to convince a judge to grant the modification request to lawfully make a change. This does not always mean taking your case to court, however.
Enforceable vs. Unenforceable Changes
Creating your own parenting plan could help you avoid the need for modification in the future. You and your spouse can work together to reach a mutual custody arrangement without court intervention. Your parenting plan would need to include the type of custody, child living arrangements, visitation, parental rights, holidays, education, travel and vacations. A judge or Court Commissioner would then have to sign off on the plan to finalize the arrangement. Even if you and your spouse drafted the parenting plan to begin with, you need a judge’s approval to have a valid order modification.
Modifying an arrangement without going to court does not mean simply discussing the matter with your spouse or getting his or her permission to take the kids. While you could do this, it is important to realize this will not be an enforceable custody modification or arrangement by law. Without a judge’s consent to the change, your spouse could turn around and report you for kidnapping – even if you had your spouse’s oral agreement to the modification. Protect yourself legally by taking modification requests to a judge for official approval.
Modification via Mediation
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a popular avenue for parents trying to arrange or modify custody agreements in California. Through ADR, you could achieve an official, legal custody modification without going to court. ADR is not a custody trial. It is a less formal (and often less costly) legal process that involves you, your spouse, a third-party judge and (optional) attorneys. ADR such as mediation could present a setting in which you and your spouse can discuss your current custody order, agree on modifications and get a judge’s signature on changes in private.
Mediation or another form of ADR might be right for your family if you and your spouse have a history of successfully working together on the terms of your divorce. If you came up with the initial custody order together, for example, your spouse might be more open to mediation. If you and your spouse have a high degree of conflict, ADR might not be as productive. You and your spouse must be willing to hear each other out and work together to resolve custody issues.
Custody Battles in Court
If mediation is not right for your family, modifying your custody order may take a full-blown court trial. Many couples try to avoid going to court for as long as possible, exploring other options such as negotiations, arbitration or mediation. In the end, however, a trial may be necessary if your spouse will not agree to the modification request. Taking your ex-spouse to court in pursuit of custody modification will take showing the courts that a significant change in your circumstances has occurred and that this justifies the change.
A courtroom in Los Angeles most likely will not agree to a custody modification request unless you have a valid reason for making the change. If you switched to a part-time job, for example, and have more time to spend with the kids, a judge might hear your request. You are more likely to win your case in a situation that could jeopardize child welfare, such as proof that your spouse is being abusive or neglectful in a case seeking primary or full custody. Cases like this will most likely require court intervention to resolve.