It’s common for divorced parents to want to make changes to the parenting plan over time, but what are valid reasons to change the visitation schedule?
By Tracy Achen
Life is constantly changing. The visitation schedule that was outlined in your original parenting plan may no longer work due to changing circumstances. If this describes your situation, you may need to request a modification of the visitation schedule.
Some common reasons to change the visitation schedule include:
An existing visitation schedule will likely be impractical if either parent moves far away. If you’re the custodial parent and are planning on moving, you’ll need to consult your parenting plan first. The main thing to look for is if there is a relocation clause that prohibits moving out of the area without the other parent’s permission. Even if there isn’t a relocation clause, moving without notifying the other parent may trigger the other parent to file for a change in custody.
The best approach is to sit down with the other parent and discuss your reasons for moving and how you’ll handle long-distance visitation. Try to work out how your child will be able to spend time with your ex. One way to do this is by extending visitation during school holidays and vacations, with calls and videos chats in between. If there is push-back, you might consider using mediation to work out the differences. If you still can’t reach an agreement, you may need to go to court to resolve the issue. Be prepared to demonstrate how the move will be in your child’s best interest.
Conversely, the non-custodial parent doesn’t need permission to move. But expecting the regular visitation schedule to continue would be unreasonable if the parents live a long distance apart. In these situations, the schedule will need to be modified to accommodate the circumstances. Here are some tips on helping your child stay close with the non-custodial parent after relocating.
You children’s needs will change as they grow. If your children were little when you divorced and are now teenagers, the original visitation schedule probably doesn’t work anymore.
School and extracurricular activities often take more of child’s time as they get older and may require changes to the schedule. And when children get older, they often make their wishes known regarding the visitation schedule. If the matter went to court, a judge would take into consideration an older child’s preferences when making a decision about the visitation schedule modification.
If there is a significant change in either parent’s employment which would make it hard to follow the original visitation schedule, a modification would be warranted. For example, if a parent’s work hours significantly increase or decrease, the amount of time the child spends with that parent may need to be adjusted accordingly.
Additionally, the court prefers a child stay with a parent during visitation instead of with a babysitter or child care provider. The visitation schedule may need to be modified if a parent works nights or a swing shift to enable visitation during the parent’s days off. It’s always best for parents to work through these issues themselves. Here is more information about work-related custody and visitation issues.
Anything that would jeopardize the child’s wellbeing could be considered abuse and a valid reason to change the visitation schedule. For example, physical, mental, verbal, and sexual abuse would justify a modification of the custody and visitation order. Other reasons to change the visitation schedule might include one of the parents engaging in behavior that could endanger the child or if the parent is exposing the child to circumstances that puts the child in danger of abuse by others. Find out more about what makes a parent unfit for custody and visitation.
A lack of supervision could also endanger the child, as well as mental or physical health concerns that would render a parent unfit. Alcohol or substance abuse that places the child at risk of harm or creates a negative influence could also be a reason to change the visitation schedule. To get the visitation schedule changed, you’ll need to provide proof your child is in danger when they are spending time with the other parent.
There are instance in which a parent’s home environment would be considered unfavorable for visitation and could possibly be considered harmful to the physical, mental or emotional safety of the child. Instances of an unstable environment include a lack of proper housing, unsanitary conditions, an excessive hoarding situation, lack of electricity or running water, etc. A judge would take into consideration if the home environment is suitable, comfortable, and safe for the child when reviewing a request to change the visitation schedule.
If a parent is in jail or prison, the regular visitation schedule is not practical and probably won’t occur. It’s important to note that the original visitation schedule remains in effect unless the non-incarcerated parent files for a modification. If you want the visitation schedule to be different once the other parent is released, the best time to file for a modification is during his or her incarceration. Find out how visitation and custody are affected by incarceration.
If visitation had been restricted for the non-custodial parent due to substance abuse or an unsuitable environment, the order may be modified after the parent achieves stability. For example, if the parent can show they’ve been clean and sober for two years and are holding a steady job, the visitation schedule may be modified to allow more time with their child.
In many cases, the surviving parent will get custody when the custodial parent dies, but it’s not automatic. Generally, the court prefers for a child to remain with a biological parent. However, if visitation had previously been restricted by the court, a judge will likely examine the situation and determine if continuing supervised visitation is justified. If the parent is deemed suitable, he or she will be granted full custody rights. If not, a grandparent or other relative may be awarded custody and the non-custodial parent will continue with supervised visitation.
The first thing you need to consider is how long it has been since your parenting plan was put in place. The courts strive to provide consistency in a child’s life. For this reason, many courts have a waiting period after the original parent plan was established before it can be modified. This waiting period varies by state, but can be from one to two years. For example, in Texas you typically have to wait a year before you can request a modification unless there are extraordinary circumstances or the child is in danger. In Illinois, there is no waiting period as long as the parent requesting the change can prove a significant change in circumstances or if the parents mutually agree to the changes.
There are two ways a child visitation schedule can be changed:
If you and the other parent can mutually agree to change the visitation schedule, it will usually be approved by the court. It’s important to file a motion and submit the modified schedule with the court so that it can be legally enforced.
If you can’t agree, a judge will only modify the visitation schedule if you can prove there is a significant change in circumstances and that the change would be in the best interests of your child. Therefore, it’s important to provide proof that your children would benefit from the changes in the visitation schedule. It is always a good idea to seek a skilled family law attorney to handle this type of modification if it will be contested.