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California Court Discusses Modifications of Juvenile Custody Orders

It is not uncommon for a parent who has lost custody of a child to the State to seek a modification of a juvenile order once the parent has addressed the State’s concerns. Thus, the California courts allow for modifications of juvenile orders in certain circumstances. Specifically, a parent that wishes to modify an existing juvenile order must produce evidence sufficient to show that there has been a material change in circumstances. What constitutes a material change was discussed in a recent California case in which a mother appealed the denial of her petition for modification. If you intend to seek a modification of an existing juvenile custody order, it is prudent to contact a knowledgeable California child custody attorney to discuss your case.

Historical Background of the Case

It is reported that DCFS removed the child from the care of the mother and father in 2017, due to a history of violent altercations between the parents, the father’s conviction for battery, and the mother’s untreated mental health issues. The mother was granted visitation at DCFS’s offices, domestic violation training, and reunification services. She was then granted overnight visitation with the child, which she then lost due to her failure to move to a safer home as required, and her ongoing contact with the father.

Allegedly, the State subsequently terminated reunification services as well, due to the mother’s failure to refrain from contacting the father.  The mother continued her visits with the child, which were positive, and the child was diagnosed with autism. Ultimately, the mother filed a petition for modification of the order terminating reunification services and requested to have the child placed with her, arguing she met all of the court’s requirements and that it would be in the child’s best interest to be with her. The court denied her petition, after which the mother appealed.

Grounds for Modification in a California Custody Case

Under the California Welfare and Institution Code, a parent can file a petition to modify, change, or set aside a prior juvenile court order. The parent seeking the modification bears the burden of showing that there was a change of circumstances or new evidence exists and that the modification proposed would be in the best interest of the child. The parent must demonstrate both factors by a preponderance of the evidence, which generally means he or she must show that it is more likely than not to be true. The Code allows parents to seek a modification after reunification efforts have ended, but before parental rights have been terminated.

In the subject case, the appellate court found that the trial court erred in denying the mother’s petition. Specifically, the court found that the mother presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate that she had addressed the domestic violence issues, which were the only basis for juvenile court jurisdiction. The appellate court noted that the mother demonstrated she addressed the court’s other concerns as well. Thus, the appellate court reversed the trial court ruling.

Speak to a Trusted Family Law Attorney

Demonstrating that a juvenile custody order should be modified can be difficult, and it is best for anyone who wishes to seek a modification to consult an attorney. If you need assistance with a custody matter, trusted California child custody attorney Ethan M. Weisinger can advise you of your options and assist you in seeking the outcome that is best for you and your child. Mr. Weisinger can be contacted through the form online or at 925-258-2020 to schedule a confidential and complimentary meeting to discuss your legal needs.

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