Once a divorce is finalized and the court has decreed the ongoing schedule for child custody and visitation, it’s not necessarily easy to change it. There are likely occasional changes, one-time events that the parents handle between themselves (one parent is sick during their visitation weekend, grandparents coming to visit, etc.), which the parents can handle independently. But if there are continued concerns that lead to wanting a permanent change of custody and visitation, a return to court is necessary. It’s important to understand that the court will change these schedules if it believes the change is in the child’s best interests. It’s not as likely to be accepted if it benefits the parent only. Here are some situations where a legal change could be warranted when approaching the court.
The Child’s Health and Well-being Is at Risk
As noted above, the court is more likely to agree to change a custody or visitation schedule if it’s in the child’s best interests. A child whose health and well-being are at risk is a substantial cause for concern.
There are several situations that could cause the child to be at risk. It’s important to understand that the court will want proof of any of those, not just the other parent’s claim.
Physical abuse or sexual assault
If the child is being physically harmed, changing the schedule is something that should happen sooner than later. It’s not just the other parent who could be causing the harm, but other residents or visitors to their home and other family members.
Emotional or verbal abuse
Harm can be done to children without any physical contact. If a child is verbally or emotionally abused, petitioning the court for a schedule change is advised.
The other parent’s instability
Instability can take many forms, but any of them can have a negative impact on a child. This could include situations such as the other parent developing a drug or alcohol addiction, moving or changing jobs frequently, or working jobs that require irregular or greater-than-usual hours. However, the reverse can also be true.
If one parent had limited contact with the child because of long working hours but changes jobs in order to work less, they may request a change in schedule in order to spend more hours with the child.
Frequent violations of schedules.
As noted above, most families find that there are occasionally times when the schedule has to be changed on a one-off basis, such as the parent being sick the weekend they’re supposed to have the child. But if one parent routinely disrupts the court-ordered schedule by not showing up or consistently showing up late or refuses to let the other parent have the child when it’s that parent’s turn, it may be time to return to court.
If one parent moves far enough away that the current schedule is no longer manageable, a new schedule may need to be negotiated and presented to the court. This has the potential to be difficult if one parent wants the child to move with them and the other wants the child to stay.
Again, the court wants to cater to the child’s best interests. If the child changes in some way that makes the current schedule nonworkable (for example, if the child develops mental health issues as they approach the teen years and one parent is better able to handle those issues than the other), the schedule may need to be adjusted.
What Is the Process for Changing the Custody and Visitation Schedule?
The first step is filling out a modification suit. What happens next depends on if the modification suit is uncontested or contested.
An uncontested modification suit can be completed in one of two ways:
- Agreement. Both parents agree and sign the modification suit. This might appear to be the most straightforward route, and in some ways, it is, but it can take some negotiation.
- Default. One parent doesn’t agree and doesn’t sign the suit but doesn’t respond to it or appear in court as requested. The parent requesting the modification will likely succeed through the default of the other parent.
In this situation, one parent wants the schedule changed, and the other objects and refuses to sign the modification suit. The parent objecting also responds to being served. This leads to a legal hearing, for which notice must be provided 45 days prior to both parents.
While having an experienced family law attorney helping with any change request regarding custody and visitation is recommended, it’s especially valuable if the modification suit is contested. Because this will end up in front of a judge in court, and the judge will expect adequate evidence to justify the change, having a lawyer who knows what to expect and how to prepare can make a significant difference.
What Should I Do if I Want to Change the Custody and Visitation Schedule with My Child?
Call us as soon as possible at 817-813-8513 for a free case evaluation. Requesting changes to custody and visitation schedules via the court can be a complex process. Our experienced, knowledgeable family law attorneys can provide the insight you need and guide you through the process, working to achieve the best outcomes possible for you and your child.