During a divorce or breakup, parents must come to an agreement as to how custody and visitation will work. Rarely, the matter goes to trial, but most of the time it is a compromise between two parents who want the best for their child. As time passes, however, it’s possible that one or both parents will want to make changes. Many times, this can be done by talking out the issues and compromising; sometimes, however, parents need to go back to court to have the situation resolved by a third party. Read on to find out how re-negotiate your visitation rights after they have already been approved or ordered by a judge.
Understanding the Different Types of Custody Arrangements
First, it’s important to understand the different types of custody arrangements and how that might be affecting your case. Most of the time, parents are given joint physical and legal custody of their child. Other times, however, one parent is given sole physical custody, sole legal custody, or both. If one parent has sole physical custody, the other parent usually (but not always) has visitation rights. This visitation might be supervised in some situations.
Physical custody refers to where the child physically lives. Joint physical custody means that both you and your child’s other parent have the child living with you at various times. It might not be a 50/50 arrangement in terms of how many nights the child spends at each home, but you each have equal rights to the child. A parent with sole physical custody will generally have the child most of the time; the visitation schedule might allow the non-custodial parent to have the child every other weekend or one night per week, for example.
Legal custody refers to who makes decisions about where the child will go to school or when they will see a doctor. Usually, this is a joint endeavor, but sometimes one parent is given sole legal custody. When you both have legal custody, one parent might be designated as the tiebreaker for times when you can’t agree on a course of action.
Common Visitation Schedules
Whether or not you have joint physical custody, as long as you are allowed to have overnight visitation, you will need to adhere to a schedule. This is particularly important for younger children; once your children are in their teens, it might be a less formal arrangement. For younger children, however, it is important to stick to a routine as well as you can.
If you have joint custody, you might choose a week-on-week-off schedule, where the child lives with you for one week and then with his or her other parent for a week. Another common schedule is that one parent will have the child Monday and Tuesday nights, the other parent will have the child Wednesday and Thursday nights, and they will switch off on alternating Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. This gives each parent two 5-day swaths of time with their child per month and two 2-day blocks per month.
Other arrangements might be made depending on the age of the child and where the parents live in relationship to their school. For example, it might be that during the school year, the child lives Monday through Friday with one parent and sees the other every other weekend and one or two evenings just for dinner. During the summer, the schedule might switch. If one parent lives far away, they might have their child only in the summers and every other winter break. Custody and visitation schedules can be flexible.
What to Do If the Current Schedule Is Not Working
The first thing you should do if there needs to be a change is to speak to your child’s other parent. They might be very amenable to adjusting the schedule. It might be necessary if you are moving away, if the child is about to start a new school that is closer to one parent than the other, or if the child is spending weekends traveling with a sports team, for example. If the two of you agree, then it is just a matter of putting it all in writing and filing it with the court to have it approved.
If the two of you do not agree, you might need to take advantage of mediation services or go through the courts. One thing you should not do is stop making child support payments, if applicable. Remember that child support payments and visitation are not linked; if you are unhappy with the current visitation schedule, you must not decide to alter the child support arrangement because that could put you in contempt of court. More importantly, it will deprive your child of the funds needed to properly support him or her.
When You Need to Go Back to Court
Going back to court can be difficult, so it’s best to work within the system to redevelop your parenting plan with your ex. If you do need to go back to court, work with your legal advocacy group to file the appropriate documents. From there, a judge might order you and your child’s other parent to try mediation and take workshops that will help you learn more about your options. A home study might be done and you might be assigned a guardian ad litem (GAL), who will look into the situation and give his or her recommendations to the court. From there, the judge will look at all of the evidence and make a decision, if the two of you have not been able to agree on one.
Rehashing a custody battle is not something that many parents look forward to; it can take a lot of time and can also be expensive and emotionally draining. Talk to the legal resource experts at National Family Solutions to learn about your options and to feel confident as you represent yourself and your child so that his or her best interests can be met.