Parenting Plan Modifications - Answers From The Expert

Parenting plan modifications usually occur when there is a change in circumstances, such as one parent moving away, a child custody change, or a change in the visitation schedule. Major modifications occur when there is a change in custody, and minor modifications center more on visitation schedule changes. 


If both parents agree to the changes to the parenting plan, it is fairly simple to get to get the agreement changed. If there is disagreement over the changes, then the parents will need to go to court to prove that there is an adequate change in the circumstances to warrant modifying the parenting plan.

FAQs about Parenting Plan Modifications

The following questions about parenting plan modifications can help you understand what is involved in the process of modifying your parenting agreement.

Does a temporary parenting plan affect the final arrangements?

Ella's Question: We have a temporary parenting plan where he gets the kids every other weekend and on Wednesdays. They spend a lot of time at his mother's, and she was beating them (when the order specifically stated "NO Corporal Punishment"). She also left them alone one night until midnight, which I can prove. Does the temporary plan usually carry over into a permanent one once the divorce is final?

Brette's Answer: The temporary plan is temporary. If you have a custody hearing, the judge will examine all the evidence and decide what is best for the children. It is important that you have all the facts in your favor presented to the court, which means calling witnesses and presenting any physical evidence. For example, if your mother-in-law physically harms your children, take photos of any marks on their skin. Get an attorney if possible.

What happens to a parenting plan when circumstances change?

Sheila's Question: In our divorce agreement, it says that if the mother is working night shift, the minor child shall stay with the father. What happens if I quit my job?

Brette's Answer: In this type of situation the parties should either negotiate another plan that allows reasonable visitation, or the father would need to file a petition alleging a change of circumstances and asking the court to create a new visitation plan.

Would moving an hour away be reason to change our parenting plan?

Kaula's Question: I have full legal and physical custody. My ex has moved to another town since our divorce. But her parenting time stipulates she takes our kids to school on Friday. That is over a fifty minute drive from her house. Is her moving that far reason enough to change our parenting plan to where she does not take them to school?

Brette's Answer: Generally moving a far distance is a sufficient reason for parenting plan modifications. It is up to the court to decide if it is in the best interests of the child to change the plan so she does not take them to school. 

How do we update our parenting plan if we’re not good at communicating?

Lauren's Question: My ex and I have been divorced for almost 8 years. Until last year he lived 3 hours away and visitation was regular. Our situation has changed significantly due to his move and we are not good at communicating with one another. I think the schedule should be relatively fluid due to the kid’s schedules, but he wants set dates for everything. We can't even agree on basic things like what a holiday period is. How do we resolve this? 

Brette's Answer: I think that the best plan for you would be to go to mediation. A mediator can help you work through all of these issues and conflicts and help you come up with a clear plan, with clear definitions you can both follow. You also need a procedure for making alterations to your plan, such as when your kids' schedules conflict. Contact your local bar association for a referral to a family mediator. You might only need a couple of sessions to work all of this out and create a parenting plan you can both follow moving forward. 

What if he's not following our verbally agreed on parenting plan?

Cherie's Question: My ex agreed to sit down just with me and arrange a parenting plan verbally. It has only been in place for 2 weeks and now he's not following what we agreed to.

Brette's Answer: Verbal out of court agreements are not enforceable. Get a court order that specifies everything you've agreed to.

What should we do if he can't follow the original parenting plan?

Patricia's Question: My husband has a parenting plan that he is unable to follow. He is supposed to keep the kids on Friday nights and every other weekend. However there was a change in his income and he is in school Monday-Friday and at work Friday to Sunday nights in order to keep up with child support. What can we do so he won't get in trouble for not being able to keep the kids?

Brette's Answer: The first thing is to talk to the mom to see if something can be worked out. Maybe you could have them some week day evening each week or during the day on a weekend. Talk to her and see what works. If she is inflexible, your husband can ask for a modification from the court. Good luck.

Can parenting time be modified to reflect what is really occurring?

Kristine's Question: The worst part of our divorce agreement is he got parenting-time 6 of 14 overnights and our 15 year old is severely disabled. Currently, he's taking them every other weekend, so 2 of 14 nights. He also isn’t taking them on their school breaks and only wants every other weekend over the summer. I am worried it will really be his mistress who will be watching them while he works! Would I be able to take him back to court to have parenting time changed in our custody agreement to reflect what is actually happening?

Brette's Answer: You can seek a modification to the schedule that has been in use. And you can request that you be the child care provider of choice over his girlfriend. The court will make a decision based on what is in the best interests of the children. 

What if he's not following the first choice babysitting stipulation?

Lauren's Question: In our divorce agreement, we agreed to alternate visitation on a weekly basis. I work regular hours, and while he starts work at 9:00 am, he may not get off until 9:00 pm. When it's his week with the kids, his sister stays with them, but I feel like they should be with me until he gets off work. We have a first choice babysitting clause in our agreement, but he says he gets to decide where the kids stay when it's his week. Do I have any options?

Brette's Answer: If your order says that the other parent shall be the first choice as babysitter, then he's required to offer you the opportunity to have the kids while he is working. If not, he is in violation of your order.

Is he in contempt if he's not following the parenting plan?

Jill's Question: We have joint legal and physical custody of our 4 year old daughter. She will be starting school next year and in our parenting plan we agreed she would go to the school district he resides in, but he refuses to let me see the enrollment papers. She was also due for her checkup and shots and I found out he took her to a different doctor without letting me know or be there. As a mother it is very important to me that I attend my children's checkups. Is he in contempt? He has been using her as "the messenger" ever since we split up and says negative things about me in front of her. Please, please give any advice.

Brette's Answer: This is not contempt, but a violation of the joint parenting plan. You must make decisions jointly. By closing you out, he's violating that order. It sounds like what you really need is a mediation session or a joint counseling session where you can get back to being on the same page again. It does sound like he's forgotten some important parenting skills. You can certainly go back to court and have the judge tell him again decisions must be jointly made.

What if he violates the provision not to introduce significant others?

Kari's Question: My ex and I created a parenting plan that says that he cannot introduce a significant other in social situations until 6 months after the divorce. If he does this prior to the 6 months, is there anything enforceable or consequences for not following parenting plan guidelines or is it a waste of time to even pursue it since 6 months is only 1 month away?

Brette's Answer: You would certainly be within your rights to enforce it, but I think you are wise to ask yourself the point of doing so - particularly when you consider how long it would take to actually get before a judge. If your kids are not being put in a bad situation, there is little harm being done (except for the fact that he's violating a court order and violating your trust, which I do understand is a concern). Good luck.

How can I cancel his visitation until he is drug-free?

Fiona's Question: I already have custody of my daughter, although my ex has visitation. I left him because he was into cocaine... he told me he was clean so I allowed a visitation agreement, as long as she was not staying there overnight. I have recently discovered he is back into it and possibly selling it. What steps do I take to revoke visitation till he's clean?

Brette's Answer: You'll have to go back to court for a modification of the visitation order. You can ask for drug testing as well.

Can the non-custodial parent get a modification requiring drug testing?

Nicole's Question: I am the non-custodial parent, and at the time of my divorce I had a criminal charge pending (2 possession charges). In our agreement, there is a stipulation that my ex-husband (for two years following the decree signing) can order random drug screening. It has come to my attention that he is not exactly citizen of the year, and I would also like him to have to submit such a test. Can my decree be modified to include me having the same right as him, to test him randomly?

Brette's Answer: I think it's unlikely the court is going to agree to this since you have a prior record for this and he doesn't. I think you're better to just get through the two years and go through the tests if you have nothing to hide.

Can the custody order be changed to be more specific?

June's Question: Our joint physical custody order is basic and does not spell out vacation, school or holidays or travel (which my ex won't allow). Every issue has to be resolved by the court, if the judge does not order it, he will not comply. Dealing with him is very stressful, there is no compromise with him, and everything has to be his way. Can I go back to court to ask for parenting plan modifications so the custody order is more specific?

Brette's Answer: Yes definitely and this should have been taken care of by now. The court does not want you to come back for every little thing. Get an order in place that spells absolutely everything out. I would recommend you hire an attorney and sit down and make a very comprehensive list of absolutely everything AND chart it out on a calendar so that actual dates can be inserted.

What if he only communicates with me through our son?

M's Question: My ex refuses to have any contact with me and we have a 14 year old. Now he prefers to use our older son (who is 18) as a go-between, asking him questions for me to answer. What can I file or do to get him to communicate with me as two adults?

Brette's Answer: Since your 18 year old is an adult, you can't do anything about how he is communicating with him. You could perhaps get a court to amend your order to include a provision that all communication between parents is to happen directly between the parents and not with a go-between. To do so you would file a petition or a motion to modify the order.

Can the plan be modified to include a provision for attending church?

Shandy's Question: We have a parenting time order that was recently put in place. In court he told the judge that if he got weekend overnight visitation he would allow me to pick our son up for church since my religion is very important to me. Now that the order is in place, he won't allow me to pick our son up for church since it doesn't specify it in the order. Is this enough to ask for a modification to the court order?

Brette Answers: Yes, you could seek to modify the order to include this. It's not a big change so it should not be a problem.

How can I get a parenting plan changed?

Fawn's Question: I am fighting a battle with my ex over our parenting plan. In the plan, he has the kids 6 nights a week, whereas I only get one. I feel that this is affecting them emotionally. Can I request parenting plan modifications for a more fair schedule?

Brette's Answer: You can always ask to have the plan changed, but you'll need to convince the court that changing the plan is in the best interest of your children. You may need to have a therapist testify about the impact on them. Talk to an attorney.

Is the rest of the parenting plan the same if only support and visitation are modified?

Bobby's Question: My original parenting plan was modified regarding the child support payment amount and the visitation days. If there are things not mentioned in the modification that were specified in the original plan, such as pick-up times and holidays, do those matters still follow the original parenting plan stipulations?

Brette's Answer: Generally yes, unless the modification would contradict them or make them impossible. It also depends on whether the court issued an entirely new order or issued a modification that is based on the old one.

What happens if he won't agree to the new visitation schedule?

Laura's Question: My new husband and I want to buy a house 40 miles away from my ex-husband. My ex and I share joint legal custody and currently share residential a week on and a week off. The move would require a change to 3 weekends a month and the majority of summers, school holidays and other school time off. I've been able to get it to 45/55. My ex is willing to discuss it, but what could happen if he doesn't agree to the new schedule?

Brette's Answer: Then you have to either mediate it or go to court and ask the judge to decide.

What if the judge made changes to the parenting plan we didn't want?

Carol's Question: We just got an order from a district court involving our parenting time schedule. In the original divorce decree both parents were granted 50% joint custody and it's been this way for almost 4 years. In an attempt to make the decree more detailed with a set schedule we went to court. Now the judge made an order that took parenting time away from one parent which changes the equal custody that was previously agreed upon. Neither party even asked for a change in custody only different set schedules. We are devastated and need some advice on what to do. Can we appeal the order? Also, he didn't even rule on the first right of refusal which was one of the larger issues in our court case. Any help would be so greatly appreciated.

Brette Answers: I think you should see a mediator and work this out yourselves. You can then submit a stipulation to the court with your agreement. Unfortunately, this is why the court systems is not always best equipped to decide these things - the judges simply don't have time to understand every last detail in the case. Meet with a mediator (you can probably do this in just an hour or two) and work out your unresolved issues and keep the other things the way you had them. In the meantime, if you both agree, you're free to alter the schedule to fit your needs, as long as you are both in agreement.

Can I appeal the judge's ruling on the visitation schedule?

Tasha's Question: My ex filed a petition for more visitation (we agreed to let him have every weekend). My daughter was recently diagnosed with leukemia and she is only 7 months old. The first week and a half he came to see her and then stopped. I have been at the hospital 24/7 with her and learning everything I need to know for when we go home! We just went to the final hearing Wednesday and the judge gave him an extra day so now it's basically split. He had a lawyer and I didn't. He doesn't know how to properly care for her if we were to go home now. Am I capable of fighting this or appealing this?

Brette's Answer: Appeals are based on whether the judge made a mistake of law, not on whether you were able to present your case. None of what happened makes sense to me though. He hasn't been exercising visitation yet the judge gave him more? If she needs special care and he doesn't know how to give it, you should file a petition to modify this order. This time get a lawyer to represent you if at all possible.

Would the parenting plan be revised due to his work schedule?

Karen's Question: It was agreed that my son's father and I would parent 50/50. My son has spent more time with me even though we have this verbal agreement. His father now works as a flight attendant whose hours and days of work vary from week to week and month to month. He has proposed following his work schedules as a way of determining the parenting schedule. I feel this is unreasonable because of the demands it makes on my lifestyle and how it discontinues the routine my son is used to. How would a mediator or judge view the occupation of a flight attendant and is it reasonable for us all to follow his work schedules?

Brette: The question is not how it affects your lifestyle, but how it affects your son. You didn't mention his age, and that is important. It's important that your son have a relationship with his father. There are plenty of children who have parenting schedules that change. The only question is how it will affect your son.

Can visitation be revised to take the activities into consideration?

Kathleen's Question: My ex now has to pay child support for the first time in 3 years. Because of this, he is now stating the kids have to visit with him every time it is his time. He never had a problem with missed time due to sporting activities or birthday parties before the child support. Now he is threatening that our son cannot attend his varsity practices if they fall on his weekends (he lives 2 hours away). Can his father interfere with his life in such a way, or can visitation be revised?

Brette's Answer: You can file a petition to modify the plan. It's important that the kids be permitted to do their activities. Ask that a Law Guardian be appointed to represent their interests.

Can I get visitation increased if I'm the non-custodial parent?

Janet's Question: Due to a felony 5 years ago, I received 5 years' probation; and my two children we taken away from me and placed with their father. I was given supervised visitation once a month. It costs me $600 to travel and stay in the city where my ex and my children live. I therefore do not have the money to hire an attorney to try and get more visitations with my children. Can I get more time with my children and should my ex-spouse bear some of the visitation costs?

Brette's Answer: I think it is worth a try to ask for more time. If you've completed your probation and have created a good life for yourself, a court would certainly listen to your argument. You need to show not only that you haven't gotten in trouble again but that you have a stable life with a job, home, and support system. You'll need to present a good plan to the court showing how you would spend time with your children. There's nothing unreasonable about asking your ask to help with the cost of visitation. Have you thought about moving closer to them?

Is it legal for his girlfriend to discipline and bathe my children?

Janet's Question: I am divorced and my 9 year old and 6 year old sons live with their father at his parents' home. He has a girlfriend that has spanked my kids and gives them baths. She has told them to call her mom and many more issues here but I was wondering if it is legal for her to be spanking and bathing my children?

Brette's Answer: Yes, if he gives her permission to care for them and there is nothing inappropriate or abusive happening. Judges do object to a new partner that insists on being called "mom" or "dad" or who stands in the way of the relationship between the legal parent and the children. If you are unhappy with the situation, you can ask for a modification of the custody plan.

Can it be set up that my son not be left alone with his father’s girlfriend?

Question: My ex has our son Sunday to Wednesday. Sometimes he leaves my son with his new girlfriend to run errands, but I don’t want him left unsupervised with this women. He is 1 year old and can't tell me if she mistreats him. I know this woman has been in jail multiple times and didn’t raise her 3 kids. I'm just a protective mom and I only leave my son with people I trust. Is there a way to set up where he has to leave our son with his mother when he runs errands?

Brette's Answer: Talk with you lawyer. It is possible to modify your custody order so that certain people are not permitted around the child, or not permitted to be left alone with the child. 


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