Parenting Plans, which are private agreements between parents, and Custody Orders, which are approved by judges, are not written in stone. Separated parents need to be prepared to discuss changes as needed because modifications are actually quite common in custody cases, especially in those like the one involving Angelina and Brad Pitt’s six children, which have a vast range in ages. Can anyone honestly expect that whatever judicial decision or deal is struck this year will remain the same for the next decade? Of course not– circumstances change, it is part of life, particularly with children.
Co-parents need to be flexible because inevitably at some point prior to the child attaining the age of majority, there is a good chance something will need to be re-negotiated. Here are the 6 most common reasons parents need to request a change to their Parenting Plan or Custody Order:
1. Remarriage– there is at least a 60% chance that at least one parent will remarry after the divorce, and usually that involves a move and/or a desire to change the custody schedule.
2. Relocation– if a parent needs to leave the area, then the time-sharing arrangement with the child has to be modified to accommodate the new distance between the parents’ two households.
3. Income – if one parent begins to earn significantly more, or there is a substantial decrease in income, including possibly a period of unemployment, then the parents may have to revisit the child support figures.
4. Expenses– if the expenses related to the child, including health care, education or after-care change then it may make sense to review the child support calculations.
5. Time-Sharing– if the agreed-to schedule is not working out, then parents need to revise it in a way that promotes the child’s best interest.
6. Decision Making– if the parents cannot agree on major decisions, such as education or medical care, it may be necessary to review how they deal with an impasse. This may include the use of mediation or a parent coordinator to avoid court, or one parent may want to ask for final tie-breaking authority.
For all these reasons, separated parents need to be prepared to discuss changes as needed and try to seek the assistance of a mediator or parent coordinator in the event of an impasse. Ideally then, the necessary modifications can be memorialized in an Addendum or Consent Order that a court can easily approve without the need for a protracted legal process.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.