At the time of their separation or divorce, parents must work out not only a custody arrangement (i.e. who makes decisions with respect to school, medical treatment, etc.), but also a parenting plan. A parenting plan or visitation schedule is a written document detailing the residential schedule for the children. The plan includes the rules of engagement in terms of communication, transportation, and so on.
What if your initial parenting plan doesn’t work out? In this common situation, one or both of the parents may initiate a modification proceeding. How can you go about doing this? Here are the basics.
Discuss Changes with your Ex
The cheapest and easiest way to modify your existing parenting plan is to discuss your concerns with your ex and come to a compromise. Positive parental communication and problem solving are healthy for the entire family. If you and your ex cannot seem to get on the same page, consider seeking the input of a neutral such as a counselor, mutual friend or adult family member. Keep in mind that it is generally a bad idea to seek input from the minor children themselves.
File a New Plan with the Court
If you are able to come to an agreement with your ex, you should formalize the agreement and file it with the court. Your modification will generally not be binding unless you take this step. It is possible to prepare and submit the modification paperwork on your own without the use of an attorney. Alternatively, you can pay an attorney to formalize and file the agreement for you. The cost of drafting and filing your agreed-upon modification will be far less than full representation. Lawyers refer to this type of representation as “limited scope,” “drafting only” and/or “unbundled legal services.”
File a Motion with the Court
If you and your ex are unable to agree on a modification, you should consult with an experienced attorney. A good attorney will advise you on: (1) whether or not your concerns are sufficient to warrant a modification of the parenting plan; and (2) what you should expect in the event that the plan is modified. In some cases, the issues are straightforward and may be relatively easy to address in a short hearing. In other cases, it is wise to obtain an expert opinion by way of a custody or parenting time evaluation.