When the parents of a minor child do not live together, either as a result of divorce or because they were never married to begin with, a Parenting Plan is typically required to be submitted and approved by a court to ensure that the child has continuing contact with both parents, among other purposes. Once a Parenting Plan is in place, the terms of the plan become orders of the court, meaning both parents are legally bound by the terms unless and until a court changes them. Circumstances, however, can change after a Parenting Plan is entered. The change in circumstances may warrant a change to the Parenting Plan. If you find that a change needs to be made to your Parenting Plan you may be wondering if you need a child custody attorney to modify the Parenting Plan. While the law does not require you to hire an attorney to help you modify your Parenting Plan, there are a number of reasons why having an attorney on your side is a wise decision.
A Parenting Plan is intended to formalize an agreement between the parents of a minor child with regard to how each parent will spend time with the child and how the parents will co-parent the child despite the fact that they do not live together. Although each Parenting Plan is unique, common elements found in a Parenting Plan include:
A schedule indicating when the kids will spend time with each parent on a regular basis.
A vacation and holiday schedule for time spent with each parent
Determines who will make day-to-day decisions affecting the child
Determines how you will discuss and make major decisions together, such as medical or educational decisions.
Determines how the child will be financially supported (child support)
Determines who will cover medical insurance
Determines how extra-curricular costs, and other “extra” expenses will be split between the parents
Determines how the exchange and/or transportation of the child will take occur.
May discuss what happens if a parent moves to a new residence in another town or state.
Provides for conflict resolution procedures to avoid going to court in the future.
Although a Parenting Plan might work flawlessly for some time after it is instituted, a wide variety of circumstances can change, causing the plan to no longer function well. Common changes that prompt the need to modify a Parenting Plan include:
Change in financial circumstances of a parent
Increased costs related to the child as the child gets older
A parent has a subsequent child
A parent moves far enough away to make the original parenting time schedule impractical
The child decides he/she wants to live with the other parent
Although it is possible to modify a Parenting Plan, there are certain requirements and/or guidelines that apply to a request to modify. Understandably, the court system cannot allow parents to file requests to modify Parenting Plans every few months without good cause. Doing so would not be in the child’s best interest nor would it be practical for the court system to try and manage unfettered motions to modify. Therefore, the law begins with a “best interest of the child” standard. From there, if the parents agree to the modification, making the agreed upon changes is typically just a matter of reducing those changes to writing. If the parents to do not agree, however, the court will typically look to see if there has been a “material and substantial change in the circumstances of either the child, the parent, or another interested and relevant party.” If you are able to show the required change of circumstances and that the requested modification is in the best interest of the child the court may allow the requested modification to the existing Parenting Plan.
The terms of your Parenting Plan guide the interaction between you and your child’s other parent as well as your relationship with your child. As such, it is important that your Parenting Plan accurately reflect the agreement between both parents and that it cover as many issues involved in co-parenting as possible. For these reasons alone it only makes sense to have an experienced Texas child custody attorney help you draft the plan; however, if you anticipate disagreement from the other parent to requested changes it becomes even more important to have an experienced attorney on your side.
If you are a father and have additional questions about modifying a Parenting Plan, please download your free copy of “A Father’s Guide to Custody” or contact the Fort Worth, Texas Law Office of Jon R. Boyd by calling 817-338-4500 to schedule your appointment today.