Understanding Parenting Plan Modifications
What is a Parenting Plan Modification?
When a couple divorces, there is a parenting plan that is put into place as part of their divorce agreement. These plans cover issues including the amount of time a child spends with each parent, as well as detailing the custodial arrangements which were put into place at the time of the divorce. Sometimes, life gets in the way and these arrangements are no longer suitable for one of the parents, or for the child.
When changes occur which make the parenting plan unworkable, it is possible to ask the court for permission to change the plan which is in place. The process is known as a parenting plan modification.
When Courts Consider Parenting Plan Modifications
Just because a parent is upset about the specifics of a parenting plan does not mean they can request it be modified. There are certain situations in which a California court will entertain a motion to modify a parenting plan including:
- One parent is no longer following the existing court orders
- A parent needs to relocate out of state for work
- The needs of the child have changed
- Changes in either parent’s work schedule
- A parent is not acting responsibly
- Parents have relocated closer or farther apart
Either parent may file a request for modification of a parenting plan. In nearly all cases, it is helpful if the parents can agree before filing such a request on what changes can or should be made to their existing plan.
Detailing Reasons for Modification Requests
Some of the possible reasons for modification will not require much detail when being presented to the court. For example, if a parent was recently charged with a DUI, drug possession, or physical abuse, a copy of the police report can be presented to the court to demonstrate the parent may not be acting responsibly. Other situations will require additional documents, such as:
- Parent ignoring existing plan — documentation (often maintained by one parent) detailing when and the frequency showing the other parent violated the plan.
- General relocation — when parents move closer together, it may be possible to agree on a modification because the proximity to the parent makes it more convenient for the child to see them more frequently. The opposite would be true if the move put the parents further away from each other physically.
- Relocation for work — when a parent is in the military and receives an order for their work to change, or their employer relocates them, documentation will be required.
- Work schedule changes — in general, an employer statement showing the change in schedule would be sufficient proof of the change.
- Child’s needs — as our children get older, their needs change. They may be more involved in extracurricular activities, they may have expressed a desire to spend more or less time with one parent, or they may wish to now live with a non-custodial parent. These changes are important for parents to discuss, so there is a clear understanding of how this would impact the current parenting plan.
Even if these changes are temporary, it will be necessary to modify an existing parenting plan so there is a clear court record established. Even when parents mutually agree upon the change, it is important to have the legal records reflecting their wishes.
Communication Matters When Meeting the Needs of a Child
When considering parenting plan modification, the needs of the child must always be the primary consideration. Children should have every opportunity to experience a loving and supportive relationship with both parents as well as with other family members.
When requesting a modification of a parenting plan, the new plan may include custody modification. This will change the relationship each parent has with the child, so it is important to make sure the child understands the reason for the change as well. The older the child, the easier it will be to communicate why plans are being changed.
When changes have to be made to a parenting plan, both parents being able to discuss the changes with their children in a calm and rational manner can be very beneficial to making sure the child does not feel they have done something wrong and that the changes are a punishment. This is very important to their well-being.
Why Making Legal Changes Through the Court Matters
Parents often believe if they agree upon changes to their existing parenting plan, there is no need for those changes to be presented to the court. This may work on a temporary basis, but there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Future disputes — if parents are getting along well and agree to changes in the parenting plan verbally, that might work temporarily. However, should a dispute arise later, one parent may use the changes against the other parent in requesting a modification.
- Legal issues — if a parent is spending more or less time with their child than the terms of the parenting plan cover, there is a chance the other parent may use that to file a legal action against them for contempt of court. This could be costly and involve taking time off work to defend against these charges, regardless of how unfair they may seem.
Parenting plans are designed with the best interests of children in mind, but they also offer parents protection from future legal challenges. It is never a good idea to be in violation of any court order. Working with an experienced family lawyer can help parents avoid additional conflicts which could have a negative impact on their children.
Being flexible is always important for parents. After all, life is ever-changing and sometimes we have to be prepared for the unexpected. A new parenting plan is an opportunity to improve the relationship between a parent and child and both parents should attempt to be as flexible as possible when discussing changes.
Contact an Experienced California Family Lawyer
Whether parents can agree upon a parenting plan modification, or are disputing the need for such a modification, Pedrick Law Group, APC can help. Contact our offices at 818-325-3934 today to set up a time to meet with an experienced family law attorney.