August 2006 -
Because children are always growing and changing, no parenting
schedule will work forever. Instead, you should think of your parenting plan
as something that fluctuates and changes with your child. Itís easy to feel
as though your parenting schedule is set in stone Ė after all, a judge ordered
it. However, almost all parenting plans state right in them that they can be
changed upon agreement of the parties. Even if your order or judgment does not
directly state this, judges WANT parents to take control of their lives and
reach agreements on their own outside of court. If they didnít, the courts would
be so clogged no one could access them.
When making changes to your parenting plan, keep these things
Maintain equal access. However you change
your schedule around, you should try to have the monthly total of hours with
your child come out the same for each parent as it does under your current arrangement.
However, if you both agree that this should change, youíre free to alter it.
If youíre going to make substantial changes in custody or visitation, it is
a good idea to go to court and modify your order by agreement to reflect these
Know itís not enforceable. You can your
ex can and should make changes to the schedule, but if you have a highly volatile
relationship with your ex, you should realize that changes you agree to outside
of court are not going to be enforceable in court. So if you agree that your
ex will return your child on Saturdays at 7 pm and he consistently returns the
child on Sunday at 7 pm like your court order says, you have no recourse, other
than going to court and asking the court to modify the order.
Keep your child at the center. While it
is sometimes necessary to make changes to the schedule because of the parents,
when making long-term changes, you should always consider what is best for your
child. How will he or she benefit? What works best for her or him? The entire
purpose of a parenting plan is to allow your child time with both parents, so
keep this in mind.
Create a stable environment. Itís not a
good idea to make constant changes to the schedule. Kids need stability and
a regular schedule gives them something they can count on. Try to create a schedule
that will work for now, but will also work for the foreseeable future. Itís
a good idea to calendar out the potential new schedule you are discussing so
that you can both see exactly how it will play out and can identify any potential
problems up front.
Get input. If your child is his or her
teens, getting input on the proposed changes is a good idea. Teens have their
own activities and social lives and any schedule that cuts into that will create
resentment. Sit down as a family and create a plan that works for everyone.
Write it down. Even if you and your ex
are in perfect agreement about any changes to the schedule, it makes sense to
write down the new schedule so that everyone has a copy of it. This will eliminate
any potential confusion and make you both feel as though you have created a
contract with each other. People are more likely to honor an agreement when
it is in writing.