One of the most common questions I am asked is how to make a change to an existing custody plan. Whether you reached an agreement on your own, or a judge issued an order, the terms of that plan are unlikely to continue to work as is until your child is 18. As your child grows, the custody plan should shift to accommodate changes.
When Can You Ask for a Change
In most states, there has to be a change in circumstances in order for a court to consider altering the custody agreement. Deciding that the plan you have is not what you want is not a change in circumstances. There should be something different in your child’s life or situation – a new school schedule, additional activities, a change in health, problems at the other parent’s house or your child feeling like the custody plan is not working for him or her. To make a plan, you file a for a modification to the existing plan.
That being said, if you and your ex are able to mediate your custody situation, or communicate well enough to make alterations on your own, you can make any changes you both agree to at any time, without having to meet that threshold test of a change in circumstances.
Avenues to Change
You can either return to court and ask the judge to decide, return to court with an agreed upon plan in hand and just ask the court to make it official, go to mediation and create a solution there, or simply agree together to alter the terms of the plan without any official ratification by the court. The problem with the last course of action is that any changes you agree on are not enforceable should there be a problem later on.
Stay True to the Heart of the Plan
When you’re making changes to the plan, you should try to stick to the basic division of time if you can. If that basic division of time is the problem, however, then you want to make some bigger changes, altering the division of time. Doing so in court will be a longer, more drawn-out process if you can’t agree, and will result in a hearing. Smaller modifications are usually very quick to be handled by the court.
How to Craft a New Plan
If possible, come to court with a proposed plan for how you think time should be divided. If you’re going to mediation or working through changes together, you will both need to agree on a new plan, and with some negotiation may be able to do so.
When you create a new custody plan, take some time to really look at the calendar. See where your child’s activities fall, what your schedule is like, as well as your ex’s. The idea is to create a new custody plan that lets your child have as normal a life as possible, while still having significant contact with both parents.
If you want to try to work this out together, compromise is the word you must keep in mind. You probably have different ideas about what the new custody plan should look like, and you will need to meet in the middle. If you can’t, you’ll be asking a judge to decide for you.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of he Divorce Organizer & Planner, How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest, The Complete Divorce Handbook, and The No-Fight Divorce Book: Spend Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation. Her web site is BretteSember.com and she blogs about divorce at SolveDivorce.com