In California, can a Court modify a final child custody judgment rendered after a contested trial without a party showing a substantial change in circumstances?

In a recent case,  IRMO C.T. & R.B. (3/19/19), the Fourth District reversed two Riverside County judges who issued a final custody order changing custody of 12-year-old A.B. from C.T. in California to R.B. in Arkansas. Each party had requested sole physical custody; at the hearing, the trial court switched A.B.’s custody from C.T., with whom he had lived his entire life, to R.B., who had visited only a month per year since 2008. The panel held that the trial court’s order was an abuse of discretion because R.B. had not met his burden of establishing that moving A.B. to Arkansas would not cause him detriment and that the change in custody was in A.B.’s best interests. It held that R.B. had not established any change in circumstances that “are of a kind to render it essential or expedient for the welfare of the child that there be a change” and that C.T.’s violations of a prior custody order’s terms did not constitute a change in circumstances. It also held that the trial court should have considered other, less drastic remedies than a change of custody after finding that C.T. was the parent less likely to share custody and that the weight of the LaMusga factors regarding best interests “heavily favors not changing A.B.’s physical custody from Mother to Father.”

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