Can parenting time arrangements be changed for the school year?
Parenting time arrangements may need to change during the school year. If a school year arrangement was not considered in the original parenting plan or the original school year arrangement needs to change, a modification request will need to be submitted to the court or agreed upon by both parents. As far as what the court may or may not approve, the court looks into a few different things when considering a school year parenting arrangement. These factors can include:
- The distance between parties and the school. The court will often try to prevent kids from traveling huge distances to and from school, so one party being significantly closer to the school can affect who will have more weeknight parenting time.
- Record for school attendance. If one party shows an inability or unwillingness to get the kids to school on time or consistently, the court will take this into consideration.
- Ability to assist with schoolwork. If one party shows an inability or unwillingness to help with schoolwork or encourage education, the court will consider this.
- Parents’ work schedules and alternate care arrangements: The court may award more weeknight parenting time to one parent if that parent has more appropriate before and after school care, or even overnight care, depending on the parent’s schedule
- History of giving up parenting time. If you have a history of giving up or rescheduling parenting time, the court may consider less parenting time for you so that the children may have a more consistent schedule.
If we want to change our parenting arrangement for the school year, how do we do it?
Unless both parties agree to the changes to the parenting plan, the modification will likely take a good bit of time, so it is a good idea to get started on the process as soon as possible. That being said, if both parents can agree on the modifications, the process is fairly easy. After an agreement has been reached, the parents will need to file a “Stipulated Modification of Parenting Time” with the court. The court will then review this document and, most likely, accept the changes to the parenting plan. It is important to remember that until the court approves the changes to the parenting plan, it is important to stick to the most recent parenting plan that was ordered by the court.
If the parents cannot come to an agreement on how to change the parenting agreement, the process is a little different. The first step is to look at your current parenting plan and determine if that plan requires the parents to attend mediation. Parenting plans often require the parents to attend mediation before any documents are filed. Even if mediation is not required by your parenting plan, it can still be a helpful tool in reaching an agreement with your former spouse amicably and quickly. If mediation is not required, you need to file a “Motion to Modify Parenting Time” with the court. Once this paperwork is filed, the court will set an “initial Status Conference” and provide a “Case Management Order”. Both of these will help determine the path forward, including dates and requirements to change the parenting agreement. The final step is the “Final Orders Hearing”, during which you can present facts, testimony, and evidence to support your reasoning behind the request to a modification of the parenting agreement.
What if I believe my spouse is unfit to have custody of our children? What do I do?
There are a few different routes to take depending on the severity of the situation. If your concerns do not require immediate attention, you can file a “Motion for Modification of Parenting Time”, as discussed above. This motion may be filed every two years or as often as necessary, as long as you can prove that circumstances have changed. The change in circumstances could be a variety of things, including, but not limited to, moving, use of drugs or illegal substances, or the creation of an unsafe situation for children. In proving this change of circumstances, it may be helpful to hire a third-party investigator, called a Child and Family Investigator or Parental Responsibilities Evaluator. To be clear, this is not an immediate solution and will take a minimum of 3 months to complete. Following a minimum of 3 months, the court may deny the modification and elect to keep the parenting plan consistent or modify the plan in line with the requested modification or in any way the court sees fit to modify the parenting time agreement.
If your situation is more urgent, there are two roads that will lead to a quicker reaction from the court. One of these options is to file a “Motion to Restrict Parenting Time”. This motion must include the reasons that you believe the children will be endangered, either physically or emotionally, by remaining in the care of the opposing parent. The court is required to set a hearing date within 14 days of filing this motion, making it significantly quicker than filing a “Motion for Modification of Parenting Time”. When the date of the hearing comes around, you should make sure to bring any evidence you have that your children are not safe with the opposing parent. It is important that this evidence is not just what your children have told you, as this can be considered “hearsay” and may not be admissible evidence. If the court finds that you are correct and the other parent is physically or emotionally endangering the child, there may be steps or restrictions put into place that the opposing parent must go through if they want to regain any parenting time. For example, if the opposing parent has been using drugs, the court may order a rehabilitation program before they are allowed to regain any parenting time. The court can also restrict or reduce the opposing parent’s parenting time. It is important to remember that this is a very serious claim and should not be filed without base. If this motion is found to be baseless or vengeful, the court may require you to pay the opposing parent’s attorney fees.
The second option for a more urgent case is contacting Child Protective Services (CPS). CPS is a government agency that investigates claims of child abuse or neglect. This is the most serious action and will result in the most immediate response. Before getting more into this process, it is important to note that calling CPS on the opposing parent will also invite CPS to investigate you. The organization is meant to make decisions in the best interest of the child and they cannot do this without investigating every aspect of your children’s lives. This investigation will include interviewing both parents, various witnesses, and the children themselves. CPS will generally make findings of the best situation for the children without initiating action through the court. In more severe cases, however, CPS will initiate action through the courts called a “Dependency and Neglect Action”. This may result in the child being removed from the unsafe environment, supervised visitation, reintegration therapy, substance abuse monitoring, or any action that the court feels is appropriate to the situation.