One of the more frequent questions I get asked by parents during the course of my family law practice is related to the modification of timesharing schedules. Many times when a timesharing schedule is initially established, generally through either a divorce or paternity case, a parent is so focused on the here and now that sometimes it remains difficult to keep an eye on the uncertainties of the future.
Thankfully in family law, nothing is ever set in stone, and therefore, Florida law, for example, does permit a party to petition the court for a modification on any aspect of a parenting plan and/or timesharing schedule when that becomes necessary. Specifically, Florida Statute 61.13(3) states that any aspect of a parenting plan, including the timesharing schedule, may only be modified upon a showing of a substantial, material and unanticipated change in circumstances.
In order to have a legitimate chance at a modification under Florida law, you must be able to prove to the Court that there has been a substantial, material and unanticipated change in circumstances that justifies the need for the modification you are requesting. For example, if a parent's employment commitments have changed, generally meaning a schedule change that would either permit more or less time with the children, then the courts will entertain a request for a modification of the timesharing schedule. If, however, your schedule changes only slightly, or if the changes could, or should, have been anticipated at the time when the original timesharing schedule was established, then it's possible the Court will not order a change of the timesharing schedule in your favor.
To better determine the likelihood of success of your modification request, it is important to assess the following factors, including:
As explained above, generally the need for a modification is caused by a change in employment that results in a new work schedule that would either alter the times, or permit you to have more time available for timesharing with your children. In more extreme cases, a change in timesharing or custodial arrangement may be based on another parent's criminal activity, or even abuse or neglect of a child.
In most cases, if the change of circumstance could have been known or anticipated at the time of the original timesharing agreement, there may not be a legal basis for modification. If, however, the change is unanticipated, or results from powers outside of a parent's control, then it is more likely the Court would entertain a change in the timesharing schedule. An example of an unanticipated change could be an involuntary change in work schedules or work responsibilities that cause a disruption to the timesharing schedule. An example of an anticipated change could be related to having previous knowledge of a parent’s limited parenting skills, including potential issues related to drug and alcohol abuse.
If a parent agrees to a parenting plan with knowledge of a parent’s drug or alcohol issues, and does not address these issues at the time the initial parenting plan and timesharing schedule is established, then a court may find that there has been no change in circumstances, since the drug and/or alcohol issues were known when the initial parenting plan and timesharing schedules were set.
It must be noted that is always harder to modify a parenting plan later on than it is to get something established initially, as the courts have held that a parent seeking a modification bears an “extraordinary burden” in trying to establish a substantial, material and unanticipated change of circumstances. Many times, navigating your way following the establishment of a parenting plan can be just as confusing as trying to get one set initially, particularly if your living or work situation has changed, so if you have questions about a possible modification to your parenting plan or timesharing schedule, it's important to speak with an experienced family law attorney today.