Long after a divorce is finalized, the parties may still have disputes over matters such as visitation or parenting time. Circumstances may change for one parent or the child and the parenting schedule may no longer meet the needs of the parties. Where parents disagree on making changes, parenting time can be modified by a judge. However, it is important to go through the formal process of requesting a post-judgment modification from the court. Neither party can unilaterally alter the terms of the parenting schedule previously agreed to or imposed by the court. If they do so, they risk being held in contempt of court.
The most common reasons for a post-judgment modification of parenting time include:
- The custodial parent is seeking to relocate. If the custodial parent wants to relocate after a custody agreement is in place, he/she must request permission from the court if the other parent objects. The court will then decide whether relocation is in the best interests of the child taking into account 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 non-custodial parent, among other factors.
- There are objections to parenting time. Either of the parents or the children may want to change parenting time schedules. Where one parent has been granted primary custody, courts prefer to grant liberal parenting time so the noncustodial parent can maintain the parent-child relationship. If one side requests a modification and the other disagrees, the court will decide the issue based on what is in the best interests of the child. Among the factors the court will consider are the work schedules and child care plans of the parents, the child’s relationship with other family members, and an older child’s opinion as to who he/she prefers to live with primarily or what the visitation schedule should be.
- There is drug or alcohol abuse by the parent or someone in the household or the child is being abused or neglected. Absent abuse or neglect, courts want both parents to have time with their children. As a result, a modification will only be granted if the parent can show that the other parent has a drug or alcohol problem and that it is in fact interfering with the parenting of the child. Even where such a showing is made, the court will likely put conditions on parenting time, rather than eliminating it completely. However, where there is evidence of abuse or neglect of the child, appropriate changes to custody and parenting time will be made.
While going to court is always an option to have parenting time modified, it is best for parents to 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.