Sharing physical and legal custody of a child can be a challenging task with the opportunity for many disputes between parents. Before you begin your custody arrangement, you should hammer out the specifics of how the arrangement will practically work. Which days will the child live where? When can you take your child on vacation? When can each parent make decisions about the child’s healthcare?
To reduce conflict and make sure that things run smoothly for the child, Missouri courts require unmarried parents to have a written parenting plan. This highly detailed plan will address many aspects of custody, including:
- Physical custody schedules
- Legal custody to address how major decisions for the child will be made
- Holiday and vacation schedules
- The child’s transportation
- How the parents will exchange physical custody of the child
- How each parent will address the child’s special needs
- When and how the other parent can contact the child
- Whether a parent can relocate with the child
- Whether a parent needs consent to take the child on an out-of-state trip
- What happens when one parent fails to comply with the plan
- When parents have the right to make major or everyday decisions for the child
- How parents should communicate with each other about the child
- How parents will handle health and child care expenses
This parenting plan serves as a roadmap for the parents to follow to help them share custody with as few hiccups as possible.
As we all know, things can change over time or sometimes, all at once. Your child may take up a new sport that completely changes their schedule. You may start a new job that completely changes your schedule. The other parent may remarry and decide to spend less time with the child or may relocate to a different state. These are only some of many, many situations that may make it impossible to follow the parenting plan.
While parents may make slight or temporary adjustments to their schedules according to the parenting plan, major changes to the custody arrangement should be formally done through the family courts. If you do not officially modify the court order, you risk allegations of noncompliance and enforcement efforts of your child’s other parent. It is best to discuss the possibility of a parenting plan modification with an experienced divorce attorney who understands the process.
Working Together to Reach an Agreement
In many situations, both parents will recognize the need for a modification of the parenting plan. It may be clear that the plan you devised when your child was two-years-old is no longer the best arrangement now that your child is 12. If one parent moves too far for a regular custody exchange, it should be obvious that you will need to adjust their visitation schedule.
While you may agree that changes are necessary, it can be difficult to nail down the details of a new parenting plan. It can be highly beneficial to have the support and advice of an attorney who can help guide you through the process of drafting your new plan. An attorney can also represent you during mediation sessions if necessary for you to reach an agreement about all the small but necessary details.
If you and the other parent are able to draft a new mutually agreeable parenting plan, the court will review it to make sure the arrangement is in the best interests of the child. If so, the court can formally modify your custody order and parenting plan.
When You May Need to Go to Court
If the other parent opposes a modification of your parenting plan, you can petition the court to modify the plan anyway. The law recognizes that children need stability and should not have their schedules constantly changed based on the whims of their parents. For this reason, the parent requesting the changes has the burden of proving the following:
- That a substantial and continuous change in circumstances occurred, and
- The modification is necessary to serve the best interests of the child
This can be challenging, especially if the other parent works to challenge your assertions. You should have a lawyer who is ready to represent you in court if mediation and other dispute resolution methods do not work.
Contact a St. Louis Child Custody Attorney to Learn about Your Options
If you think you may want a parenting plan modification or if you oppose a proposed modification by the other parent, you should consult with a family law attorney at the J. Rench Law Firm in St. Louis. Call 314-725-4000 or contact us online or schedule an appointment today.