Parenting plans are court orders that help divorced parents raise their children together smoothly.
They are living documents. They have to grow and change along with the children they address.
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Your plan may have built-in adjustments — e.g., allowing your child to have a cell phone when they reach a certain age — but it probably can’t foresee every shift necessary.
So custody experts recommend that co-parents regularly discuss their parenting plan and its custody schedule to see when modifications are needed.
Of course, talking to your ex can be difficult, especially when the conversation is about a legal document. Use these tips for a fruitful and courteous discussion.
A parenting plan commonly says how often parents must review it. If not, they have flexibility.
Assessing your plan together yearly or every other year is recommended. You might start with every year and transition to every two once you’re comfortable with the plan.
Here are some important questions to ask each other:
To guide your conversation, you can reuse the parenting plan checklist you made your plan with. This time, use it to ensure you discuss essential topics, like your child’s education and health.
This can also be a good opportunity to exchange sentimental items, like the child’s awards or artwork. Sharing these items at the start of the conversation may help break the ice and show goodwill.
If you’re on good terms with the other parent, meeting in person can strengthen your co-parenting and help the conversation flow. But if you have a high-conflict relationship, stick to writing; you might use email or a co-parenting messaging tool. Of course, a phone or video call is a happy medium.
Don’t include anyone else in your conversation (unless you need a neutral party, such as a mediator or mutual friend). Instead, you can ask for input from your child, your new partner or other people ahead of time. Ultimately, the decisions are up to you and your co-parent, and they should be based on your child’s best interests.
Allow plenty of time for the discussion so you don’t feel rushed. You may want to talk more than once if you have a lot to cover or need time to process decisions.
Many times you’ll leave this discussion happy with your plan as it is. But when you find you need to modify your parenting plan, you have a few options.
For changes you agree on, you might not need to involve the court. Both parents should sign and date the changes. In some states, this is sufficient and acts like a contract. However, in other states, you’ll need to ask a judge to modify your parenting plan order so that the court can enforce the changes if necessary. (Modifying your order is recommended for major changes, even where it’s not required.)
If the other parent does not agree with changes you want, make a motion by yourself to modify the plan. In your court’s form, you’ll write what the plan currently states and what you want it to state instead. You’ll probably have to go to a hearing to explain to a judge why the change would benefit your child.
Keep in mind that you may have to meet requirements in order for the court to modify your plan, like proving that you’ve had a significant change in circumstances. These requirements are more common when parents don’t agree on the revision.
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