When Will a Court Modify a Parenting Plan?
Putting together and following a parenting plan commonly involves compromise and cooperation by both parents as they seek a balanced way of sharing custody of a child. There are a number of components to parenting plans that make them ripe for dispute as parents seek to do what they believe is best for a child. The two main sections of these plans comprise the time-sharing schedule and decision-making authority over issues related to the child. When these plans are formed, most parties try to create an arrangement that will work into the future, but the occurrence of unforeseen events and natural changes in the child’s needs can make the terms of a parenting plan unworkable and/or unfavorable for the child. The law recognizes that changes happen which sometimes necessitate modifying a parenting plan. However, because these plans involve a lot of detail and effort to create, and most importantly, have a great effect on the daily life of a child, the standard that must be met to alter them is somewhat high. Nonetheless, all parents raising a child under the provisions of a parenting plan should understand when they may be modified in case unexpected shifts in circumstances call for amending these agreements.
Parenting Plan Basics
All parenting plans must contain the following information at a minimum, and this requisite information usually comprises the bulk of issues that would require modification:
- how the parents will divide the daily childcare tasks;
- when and where the child will spend time with each parent;
- who will have responsibility for the child’s health care, education and any other activities involving the child; and
- how each parent will communicate with the child, e., telephone, email, social media, etc.
Modifying a Parenting Plan
Parents are always free to privately agree to modify a parenting plan, but they should still have all modifications memorialized in writing and filed with the court in case its terms must later be enforced or there are allegations of interference with the exercise of the parenting plan. Of course, if the parties cannot agree on altering a parenting plan, a petition must be filed asking a judge to assess whether a change is warranted. When courts look at modifying parenting plans, they are looking for events that constitute a “substantial, material and unanticipated change in circumstances,” as well as what is in the best interests of the child. Thus, the new situation must be unplanned and unforeseen, permanent or semi-permanent, and be so integral to the functioning of the parent/child relationship that it is necessary to modify parenting arrangements for the child’s stake. This standard is fairly ambiguous, so predicting how a judge will rule is difficult. However, looking at past cases gives some indication of what judges want to see. Some examples of past cases where modification was granted include:
- falsely accusing a parent of abuse;
- interference with a parent’s visitation;
- blocking the child from communicating with the other parent; and
- a parent changing the child’s school without consulting the other parent.
Regardless of the specific circumstances, the party seeking modification will need to present compelling evidence, along with testimony of a number of witnesses to support the request, to have substantial chance at success. If the request is denied, options to appeal are extremely limited, and while requests to modify a parenting plan can be filed in the future, they cannot be based on the evidence previously presented.
Talk to a Tampa Family Law Attorney
Sharing custody of a child is bound to present challenges, and sometimes, these challenges are large enough to justify asking for a modification of the parenting plan. If you think your circumstances rise to that level, talk to a family law attorney about the likelihood of getting a court to agree. The Tampa law firm of Bubley & Bubley, P.A. handles a wide variety of family law issues, and they will give you the attention and time you deserve. Contact us for a free consultation.