Sarah has two (2) children with her ex: one boy, age 4 and a girl, age 8. Up until a year ago their father hardly ever saw them. He rarely pays his child support and travels frequently. Sarah hasn’t dated anyone since her divorce, two (2) years ago. Her ex has dated three (3) different women and is now intending to marry one of them later in the year. Sarah just met a man that she is interested in seeing more of. Her ex found this out and has decided that he is going to take the children more for visitation. He always brings them home late and dirty. It takes Sarah three (3) days to get them back in to their routine. What recourse does she have in court?
In light of these stressful, unprecedented times, more and more families are having difficulties with their timesharing arrangements. Everyone is on edge, parents that typically get along are now at odds with their former spouse about even the most inconsequential issues.
Trial courts possess continuing power to modify parenting plans, however their power is not unbridled. In order to change a parenting plan that has been incorporated into a Final Judgment, a party must show a substantial material change in circumstances and that the best interests of the child will be served by making the change. Not everything constitutes a substantial change in circumstances. For example, remarriage of one of the parties is not sufficient change, nor is the parties’ constantly arguing and bickering. However, party’s that neglect, abuse or abandon their child’s needs could be looking at their time sharing being modified.
Still, courts favor a stable environment and for that reason a parent has an extraordinary burden in modifying an order. In fact, the only successful modifications I have seen have been where an independent expert (psychologist, guardian ad litem or school principal) has testified in favor of change.
The preference of child may play a role in a modification; however the courts are reluctant to involve children in litigation.
In conclusion, despite our state going through this turbulent time during this worldwide pandemic, difficulties with an ex-spouse regarding timesharing should not always be remedied by going to court to modify your Final Judgment. Modifications of timesharing are difficult in the best of circumstances, however, when the courts are backlogged as they are at this time, looking for other remedies may be your best option.
At Robert Sparks Attorneys, our family law team is available to help you explore your rights and options when it comes to parenting plans, modifications, and other matters of child custody. Contact us to speak with a lawyer.