One of the most common reasons for modifying a parenting time schedule is because one parent wants to relocate. Often, these cases involve a custodial parent seeking permission to move farther away from the non-custodial parent which would make visitation more difficult. However, it may also be the non-custodial parent who is relocating and wants to modify the visitation schedule to better accommodate travel-related issues. In both cases, the parties are free to negotiate new terms themselves, but if they cannot agree, then a judge must decide the matter.
Neither parent can unilaterally alter the terms of a parenting schedule previously agreed to or imposed by a court. If one parent wants a change and the other objects, the parent seeking the change must request a post-judgment modification from the court. The judge will then determine whether relocation is in the best interests of the child taking into account various factors. These include each parent’s reasons for seeking or objecting to the relocation, the quality of the relationship between the child and each parent and the impact of the move on the child’s future contact with the other parent, among other factors.
A recent client matter provides a good example of how these factors may apply where the non-custodial parent is moving and needs to change the schedule. The father had 2 children with 2 different women, all located in New York. The father moved to Maryland for a job and sought to modify the parenting time schedule with both children.
Prior to the move, he saw each child every other weekend. However, in light of the time and expense of traveling to New York, he wanted to change the schedule to once a month and see both children on the same weekend. He also wanted the children to be permitted to travel to him from time to time. They were 13 and 10 years of age and he argued they could fly alone with an airline representative assisting them. One mother agreed to these changes but the other one didn’t so that dispute went to court.
In determining whether to grant modification of the parenting time schedule, the court must apply the best interests standard discussed above. The relevant facts in the case are that the father had to move for work and was only seeking modification because of the added time and expense for him to visit as frequently as he had prior to the move. He wanted to continue his relationship with his children and requested that they be allowed to travel to him when their school schedule would allow it.
While every case is different, courts try to support parent-child relationships and look closely at whether a change will protect the relationship between the child and each parent. To be sure, every child has the right to have a relationship with both parents.
Parents should try to resolve their disputes on their own when possible. If they cannot agree, the judge may appoint an attorney for the child to represent him or her and a forensic psychologist or mental health professional to evaluate the situation. This process is time-consuming and expensive.
If you are seeking to modify parenting time or you are fighting against a modification, contact us for help achieving the best result in your matter.