Custody Orders in CA: Types, Modification, Enforcement

A court can issue several types of custody orders, all of which legally mandate how a child should be cared for. Find information on emergency orders, temporary orders and final orders below.

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Emergency orders

Also known as an ex parte order, an emergency order is a type of temporary order.

Courts do not issue emergency orders often, reserving them for truly urgent situations that cannot wait for the normal hearing process, such as child abuse.

When a parent opens a custody case or needs to change existing orders, he or she can apply for emergency orders to receive an expedited hearing.

The parent making the request must notify the other parent at least one day prior to the hearing. The other parent has the option to attend the emergency hearing, but will not be able to present information to the judge.

At the hearing, the requesting party has to prove the children involved could be immediately harmed or removed from the state without court orders. The judge will only accept evidence relevant to the emergency and not to peripheral issues.

Details of emergency orders vary by case, but they automatically stipulate that the children involved cannot leave the state without permission from the court.

The orders stay in effect until the next hearing, which happens within 20 days. At that point, they can be terminated, replaced by temporary orders or extended. Both parties have the right to present evidence at this hearing.

Temporary orders

Temporary custody orders provide short-term solutions to parenting disputes that can wait for a regular hearing, but cannot wait until the end of legal proceedings.

Also known as pendente lite orders, these orders dictate who will have custody and visitation of a child throughout the litigation or settlement process. They remain in effect until a judge modifies them or issues final orders.

Temporary orders can be agreed upon by parents on their own terms or requested from the court by a parent. They are usually issued at the hearing following court-ordered mediation, but can come later in the process, if necessary.

Temporary orders, by their nature, focus on short-term issues and solutions, but attorneys caution that they can affect final orders and should be approached with that in mind.

Final orders

A final order is a court ruling that lasts until one of the following occurs: the child involved turns 18, the child is emancipated, the parents reach an alternate agreement, or a parent can prove a significant change in circumstances. A final order replaces any temporary custody orders that were in place.

The order will specify details of legal custody and physical custody, which can be different for each child in a family. Final orders can also stipulate requirements such as substance abuse treatment or counseling for the parents or children for up to a year.

While judges can word orders for physical custody generally (for example, giving the mother 80% of physical custody time), they usually specify a schedule (for example, an alternating weekends schedule). It's a good idea to show the judge a schedule that works well for you during your hearing or trial, so he or she can take it into account.

Final orders can be reached in two ways. Preferably, the parties draw up the terms together, and a judge signs off to finalize them. Known as settling, this is considered the gold standard by courts and parenting experts, as it keeps families in charge of their own lives.

Alternatively, a judge will rule based on the evidence. If a parent has reason to contest a judge’s decision, they can appeal to a higher court and begin the legal process again. They can also file a motion to change or cancel the court order.

Modifying a final order in California

Final orders are almost always modifiable. If parents wish to modify final orders anytime before their children turn 18, they have two options. First, they can develop a new plan together, sign it, and submit to the court for approval. Or, if the parents do not agree, they can request that the court modify the plan. This process may include mandatory mediation and multiple hearings, like the first time the family requested custody orders.

To ask the court to change a parenting schedule, parents need to prove it would be in the best interest of the kids. Before a court will order any other modifications to a parenting plan, it will also require proof that the family's circumstances have changed substantially.

Sometimes final orders include planned modifications (for example, an estranged parent’s visitation time may gradually increase as the child becomes comfortable with him or her). Orders can also include set dates for considering modifications, such as when a child starts kindergarten.

Enforcing a final order

If the other parent doesn’t follow orders issued by a court, you should keep detailed records of the violations. You can use your Custody X Change journal or actual parenting time tracker.

For serious or repeat violations, you can contact police or file for contempt with the court. If you think your situation calls for a contempt of court case, speak to an attorney; these are typically criminal proceedings.

Staying in compliance with court orders

When a court issues orders, it’s essential you follow them to the letter. If you don’t, you can be brought back to court, charged with a crime and more.

Orders for physical custody and visitation can be particularly difficult to decipher. When exactly does "Week 2" begin this month? Which day is considered the middle of winter break?

Use Custody X Change to transform your order into a calendar you can edit and print, so you’ll never have to wonder whether you’re staying in compliance.

With the Custody X Change app, you can combine possession schedules for the school year, summer break and holidays into one master calendar. Making changes is easy; just click a time block and type in your updates.

Take advantage of our technology so you never have to wonder if you’re interpreting the court’s order correctly.

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and schedules.

Make My California Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and schedules.

Make My Plan