It takes 18 years for a child to grow from infancy to adulthood. That’s a long time, and during that time, parents have to work together to raise their child – even if their relationship with each other ultimately doesn’t last. Co-parenting after a breakup or divorce can be difficult. Not only might you and your ex disagree on the finer points of parenting, but your feelings about each other and your relationship and how it ended add an extra layer of complexity to the challenge of working together. Custody orders are helpful for many parents in this situation, as they can spell out exactly what rights and responsibilities each parent has so that there’s no longer any need to argue about it.
However, it’s unrealistic to expect that the custody agreement that was put into place when you first divorced or split up is going to continue to be the best arrangement for your family up until your child reaches adulthood, especially if the marriage or relationship ends when your child is very young. Your situation will change, your ex’s situation will change, and your child’s needs will change as they grow. Fortunately, while it’s important to follow an existing custody order that’s in place, it’s not necessary to keep the custody order exactly the same until your child is grown. Modifications to custody orders are common, and they allow the arrangements to change as your family changes. Take a look at what you need to know about modifying custody orders in Florida.
When Both Parties Agree
When both parents of a child agree that a modification is in order and agree on what that modification should be, the process of modifying a custody order or parenting plan is fairly easy. In most cases, you can simply create a new agreement that both parties can sign and file the completed document with the court.
Family courts serve an important purpose, but they’re not a substitute for two parents working together to do what’s best for their children. So for the most part, family court judges are happy to encourage divorced or separated parents to work together to come up with a parenting plan that suits everybody as much as possible and will approve plans that both parents agree upon. There are exceptions when a court might not approve a jointly-agreed-upon parenting plan, usually having to do with risks to the health or safety of the child, but these are rare.
If your situation is one in which you and your ex can agree to a new parenting plan together, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you should still make sure to put it in writing and file it with the court – that way, no one can claim later that one parent is interfering with the other’s parenting time.
When Parents Can’t Agree
Where custody modifications get tricky is when the two parents involved can’t come to an amicable agreement. Maybe one parent wants the original order to stay in place while the other is asking for drastic changes. Maybe one parent wants to prevent the other from spending time with the child at all or is asking for supervised visitation instead of unsupervised visits. Or maybe both parents agree that changes are called for, but can’t agree on what those changes should be.
In these cases, a court order will be required to change the parenting plan already in place. Typically, this involves a hearing at which both parents will be allowed to present their side of the disagreement and present evidence as to why the changes should or should not happen. In some cases, modifications can be made without a hearing, but that only happens in emergency situations. To family courts, an emergency is a situation in which the child’s health or life is in imminent danger. And even in cases where an emergency custody modification is granted, a hearing will be held following the change in order to determine whether or not the modification will remain in place or whether to revert back to the original agreement.
Whether or not a requested modification is granted when the parents are in dispute depends largely on the circumstances. Like almost any custody matter, courts look at custody and parenting plan modifications through the lens of the “best interests of the child” standard. That means that their guiding principle is what is most beneficial for the child, not necessarily what either parent wants.
When is a Modification in the Child’s Best Interests?
Courts recognize that in most cases, a child benefits from building a relationship with both parents, and that consistency is important for a child’s development. Therefore, they’re often reluctant to make major changes to an existing custody agreement unless there’s a compelling reason to do so.
The child’s health and safety is a compelling factor. If you can show that the child is at risk of harm in their other parent’s care, the court will limit or restrict that parent’s access to the child.
One parent moving far away is a situation that’s likely to necessitate some kind of custody modification. Because the court values consistency, they may not be willing to modify the order to allow the child to move with the parent who is moving away, especially if they are in school, have ties to the community, and have other family nearby. However, in these cases, the court will try to ensure that the long-distance parent continues to have some type of contact and visitation.
In some cases, it’s the child that has a strong opinion on what the custody arrangement should be. Family courts in Florida do take a child’s wishes into account when considering custody modifications, although it would be very rare for a court to make a substantial modification based solely on the child’s wishes. The older the child is, the more weight their opinion will carry when it comes to custody arrangements. So while a 6 or 7-year-old probably wouldn’t have much say over how much time they spend with either parent, a 16 or 17-year-old’s wishes would carry much more weight.
A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you pursue a custody modification from a Florida court. They can help you access the documents you need and make sure that you correctly fill out and file them. This may be the help you need in order to be able to advocate for yourself in family court.