by Brette Sember
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.
It's easy to feel as though your parenting schedule is set in stone -- 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 didn't, the courts would be so clogged no one could access them.
When making changes to your parenting plan, keep these things in mind:
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, you're free to alter it. If you're 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 changes.
Know it's 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. It's 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.
It's 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.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of:
Learn more about Brette on her web site.
Copyright © Brette McWhorter Sember. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.