Parents can’t relax just because they have a custody order and a well-crafted parenting plan. Circumstances often change. The children develop new needs. Divorced spouses develop new relationships. Changes to an existing parenting plan may be necessary. Parents can agree to a parenting plan modification on their own. If the parents can’t agree, one of the parents (or both) can request that the New Jersey family court consider changing the parenting plan.
What is a parenting plan?
New Jersey authorizes two types of custody – legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody means one or both parents have the authority to decide long-term issues about their child such as where the child will attend school, the child’s religion, and what medical care the child should receive. Physical custody refers to which parent has control over where the child lives and who has authority over the child’s daily living activities. Both types of custody can be shared (joint custody). Alternatively, a parent can have sole legal and/or sole physical custody.
A parenting plan is essentially the day-to-day understanding of where the child lives each day of the year. In some cases, a child can spend most of his/her time with one parent provided the other parent has custody of the child on weekends, vacations, and some holidays. The parenting plan can divide the year so that the child lives with each parent on alternate weeks. There are numerous ways a parenting plan can designate where the child lives – depending on the cooperation (or lack of cooperation) between the parents, the location of each parent’s home, and many other factors.
Parenting plans also should address how the child is transferred from one parent to the other and what happens if a parent needs to change his/her scheduled time with their child.
What are the reasons to modify a parenting plan?
One parent normally requests modifying a parenting plan for one or more of the following reasons:
- Relocation. A parent who moves to a new residence (within New Jersey or outside New Jersey) may seek to change the parenting plan to accommodate the geographical considerations. If the parent moves farther away, that parent will likely want to trade off some short-term time (such as weekends) for longer-term time (such as longer vacation time with the child).
- A new job. If either parent obtains a new job, the hours they can spend with their child may change. For example, a parent who normally spent Friday afternoon to Sunday evening with the child may want to shift the time with his/her child to Saturday afternoon to Monday morning with the child.
- The needs of the child. Parenting plans modifications normally happen when a young child starts school. Before a child is of school-age, the child needs care throughout the day. Once school starts, the parents need to spend less time with the child during the day.
Other factors that prompt a parenting plan modification request include:
- One parent or both have new relationships which affect the time they can supervise the child
- The parent’s financial circumstances may affect the ability of a parent to provide a home for the child or the ability to transfer the child.
- A parent develops a substance abuse problems
- A parent is incarcerated
- A parent’s refusal to cooperate with the existing parenting plan
What factors determine the terms of a parenting plan modification?
The golden rule in parenting plan modification requests is – what is in the best interests of the child? Courts focus on the child. They’re not concerned about what’s in the best interests of the parent. Parents need to keep this golden rule in mind when they negotiate a new parenting plan. Otherwise, the judge will decide the terms of the parenting plan modification by focusing fully on the child’s needs.
Judges also don’t want parents coming into court for minor changes. Judges normally will only consider a parenting plan modification if there is a substantial change in circumstances. If a parent moves five miles away, the court will likely not consider a modification. A move of 20 or more miles away is more likely to be considered a substantial change.
At DeTorres & DeGeorge Family Law, our divorce lawyers are skilled parenting plan modification attorneys? We understand many of the practical issues that parents need to navigate once the new custody order begins. Our lawyers negotiate agreements that address the likely changes in schedules as children attend different schools, develop relationships with friends, and pursue after-school hobbies and interests.
Our lawyers draft strong parenting plans, negotiate parenting plan modification agreements, and litigate parenting plan modification requests in family court. To schedule an appointment with our caring family lawyers, call us at 908-691-2104 or complete our contact form to schedule an appointment. We have offices in Clinton and Morristown.