Any divorced parent will tell you that life is not easy when dealing with child custody and visitation. No matter how carefully crafted and well-thought out, any issue that deals with children is just automatically more emotional and contentious. While adhering to the plan can be stressful, mother nature ensures that it can get even more challenging as you begin to deal with children who seem to be growing out of the parenting plan. Read on for some tips on dealing with the changing custody and visitation needs of your older child.
Can you change your parenting plan?
When it comes to most divorce issues, "done and ordered" is the rule of the day. For example, if you failed to ask for spousal support (alimony) in your original divorce agreement, you won't have much luck trying to get it added later on. The way the courts see matters pertaining to minor children, however, are different. Since the court recognizes that things can change and since they place such a high priority on the needs of the child, nothing is ever final with issues like child custody, visitation and child support.
Does the plan still work well for the child?
The courts will view the needs of the child before those of the parents, so consider carefully your motivation for asking for a change. Disrupting a plan that is working fine just to accommodate a parent is probably not going to happen. That being said, it is often the needs of the child that change, particularly those children who are entering into the preteen and teen years.
These children can become quite busy before you know it, with extracurricular activities, social opportunities, sports, music, dance, religious obligations and more. It can place a strain on any family, and when you add in the need for the child to spend a certain amount of time or certain days with a certain parent, you may be dealing with a lot of temper tantrums, sulking and scheduling chaos.
What the judge will consider
The judge may be willing to make changes, particularly if it's in the best interest of the child and both parents agree to the change. Some common issues that may need to be addressed are:
1. Reasons: The judge (and you as the parent) will need to take a close look at the motivation behind your child's request to make a change. For example, make sure that the change won't end up being one that allows the child to gain more freedom through a more lenient and permissive parent. This may be the time to allow greater autonomy, but teens left to their own devices can quickly become a problem teen.
2. Should custody be changed or just visitation? There likely is very good reason for one parent being appointed the primary custodial parent, so the judge will evaluate parental fitness if a custody change is in order. It can be easier to adjust the visitation schedule to allow more flexibility, however.
Speak to a family law attorney, like one from Hertz & Kearns, to learn more about making changes in your child's custody and visitation arrangements.