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Navigating changes to parenting time

January 2020 | Elizabeth J. Grosso, Esq.
When starting a family together, most people never consider the day may come when they are subject to an order or agreement that spells out the time they get to spend with their children. Unfortunately, this ends up becoming a reality for many people, with their day-to-day lives governed by a parenting time schedule.

What happens when life does not go according to plan? What about when you want to plan a vacation with your children or receive an invitation to your cousin’s wedding, but the dates do not coincide with your parenting time in the Court Order you now run your life by?

You can always make an application to the Court to modify your parenting time schedule in order to provide the parenting time necessary to take that vacation or attend that wedding. Such an application can generally be made in the Family Court regardless of whether your visitation or parenting time schedule was ordered by the Supreme Court or Family Court.

If your parenting time schedule is part of a divorce agreement, you need to make sure there is language permitting you to take the issue to the Family Court; if not, you must make your application in the Supreme Court.

Once the application is filed, it will then have to be served upon the other parent. This means someone other than you will have to hand deliver a copy of the application you filed (or was filed on your behalf), along with a directive to appear in Court on a date randomly assigned by the Court.

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, there is a good chance your former spouse is going to be less than pleased to have to rearrange their schedule to appear in court to answer such a petition; your former spouse may also feel the need to hire an attorney to represent him or her.
All of these factors are likely to cause someone who might otherwise have been amenable to making a change to their parenting time schedule not as willing to do so. This will only serve to cause stress on your relationship with the other parent as well as your children.

It is rarely a parent’s intention to interfere with an experience that could enrich their child’s life. However, and especially when a relationship is no longer intact, people can lose sight of the fact that a child’s best interests should always be the deciding factor – not how two adults now feel about each other.

The best way to avoid turning the other parent into an obstacle is to address the issue with the other parent directly – before seeking the intervention of the Court. Take the time to research travel arrangements and the duration you intend to be away before speaking to the other parent.

Review your agreement to determine how much of the other parent’s parenting time you will be utilizing. Then, come up with a proposal for him or her to have additional time with the child or ask what they would like for parenting time in exchange for the time given up.

If the parent whose time you are going to be infringing upon feels he or she is being asked rather than told, and the issue is being discussed sooner rather than later, the other parent is much less likely to object to the request.

Regardless of your relationship with the other parent, it’s always best practice to attempt to address any changes in scheduling directly, prior to making an application to the Court. Chances are high the other parent will need to ask the same of you down the road, so this is a good precedent to set.

If you ultimately cannot come to an agreement with the other parent to alter your parenting schedule, the Court is always there to assist you. Your efforts to resolve the issue prior to seeking the intervention of the Court will be viewed favorably by the Judge assigned to preside over your case.

If you have any questions about the matters discussed in this article, please contact your Legal Service Plan’s National Legal Office at 800-832-5182.