While divorce often comes with many disagreements, there is one thing divorced couples with children usually agree on: you both love your kids. There are a myriad of circumstances that lead to divorce, but wherever you are in the process, you should know your options when it comes to time with your children and creating a parenting plan. Once a final parenting plan is put in place as part of the divorce decree, it can only be changed under certain circumstances. Therefore it is important to make sure that the parenting plan is designed for the long term, not just the immediate future.
When it comes to parenting plans, it can be a challenge to make changes and adjust them to meet your current needs. While parenting plans can be difficult to modify, here are a few things to take into consideration:
One of the easiest ways to modify a parenting schedule is for both parties to agree upon it. Though this may be easier said than done, one of the simplest actions to take is to have an open and honest conversation with your former spouse. If the two of you reach agreement on changes, all you need to do is to draft the new parenting plan, have both parties sign it, and take it in to have the court sign off on it. Once the court signs off on this document, your new parenting plan is official.
Sometimes the legal document you drafted at the time of your life needs to adapt to your day-to-day lives. Kids switch schools, parents get promotions, children join sports teams and so on. As your children grow up, unofficial changes to their schedules may come about as you adapt to new circumstances. While sometimes you may need to quickly change the plan in response to an event or emergency, in the long run, it can be a good idea to have a parenting plan officially changed to reflect the schedule that you as parents are actually following.
It is important for children to have a routine and a sense of stability as they grow up. That’s why the legislature has imposed restrictions on the ability to modify parenting plans. Assuming that the change is not agreed to or is not simply reflecting current practice, a minor modification will require showing a substantial change of circumstances, such as an involuntary change of work schedule, that justifies the modification. A minor modification generally refers to a change of 24 days or less out of the year. If these changes are in the best interest of the children, they are more likely to be approved. For a major modification, i.e. changing more than 24 days of the schedule for the year, not only will you need to show a substantial change of circumstances, but also that the current plan is harmful to your children. These reasons need to go beyond you or your child simply wanting a different plan; the new plan must be clearly planned to have strong benefits for the kids moving forward.
In most cases, parents want what’s best for their children. However, agreeing on what is best for your kids can pose difficulties. If you or your co-parent is interested in making changes to your current parenting plan, it may be helpful to hire a professional mediator. Mediators who are trained to navigate these discussions can be very helpful to achieving a success in these sorts of meetings. Discussions about children are difficult for most parents, and it is very easy for these conversations to get off track or become hurtful. Professional mediators are skilled at helping tough negotiations move forward. You may also want to have a lawyer draft the new parenting plan. They are familiar with the many issues that can create problems down the road when a parenting plan is poorly drafted. It can be much cheaper to have the parenting plan carefully drafted at the start than to have to litigate over an unclear one later on.