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 time-sharing schedules. Many times when a time-sharing 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 time-sharing schedule when that becomes necessary. Specifically, Florida Statute 61.13(3) states that any aspect of a parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule, may only be modified upon a showing of a substantial, material and unanticipated change in circumstances. So here’s what you need to know before filing your Supplemental Petition for Modification.
Factors to Keep in Mind When It Comes to Time-Sharing
What kind of change warrants a modification in a parenting plan?
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 time-sharing schedule. If, however, your schedule changes only slightly, or if the changes could, or should, have been anticipated at the time when the original time-sharing schedule was established, then it’s possible the Court will not order a change of the time-sharing schedule in your favor.
To better determine the likelihood of success of your modification request, it is important to assess the following factors, including:
1. What are the reasons for the requested time-sharing modification?
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 time-sharing with your children. In more extreme cases, a change in time-sharing or custodial arrangement may be based on another parent’s criminal activity, or even abuse or neglect of a child.
2. Was this change in circumstances known to the parties at the time that the initial time-sharing schedule was ordered or agreed to?
In most cases, if the change of circumstance could have been known or anticipated at the time of the original time-sharing 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 time-sharing schedule. An example of an unanticipated change could be an involuntary change in work schedules or work responsibilities that cause a disruption to the time-sharing 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 time-sharing 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 time-sharing 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 time-sharing schedule, it’s important to speak with an experienced family law attorney today.
Attorney Russell J. Frank is a partner at CPLS. P.A. and focuses his practice areas on family and marital law.