Dear Dr. Jann,
I would like more time with my child, but her mother is hesitant to deviate from our current court order. She thinks it’s breaking the law. I don’t want to wait six weeks to see a judge and I can’t afford a lawyer. What options do I have?
– Discouraged Dad
I am not a family attorney, so I can’t give you legal advice, but I can offer suggestions to help you and your child’s mother better communicate. With effective communication, there will be no need to go back to family court if you want to make changes to your existing parenting plan.
Many co-parents don’t know that they don’t have to follow the parenting plan exactly as it’s written in a court order if both parents agree to particular changes. The keyword, in this case, is “agree.” The court order is really just a default plan. It’s the bare minimum of what parents must abide by, however you are welcome to add additional time if both parents agree. Family court wants you to be able to talk to your co-parent and make changes if they are in the best interest of your children.
So, say one parent wants to go on an adult vacation or needs to switch weekends. The best alternative is to have a working relationship with your co-parent that allows you to make those changes easily. Family court encourages co-parents to work together, not against one another. If changes are needed, just write down the changes or additions–accompanied by proof that both parties agree–and place the document in your file as proof a new agreement was made. Even though the changes aren’t formalized in court, the document can still live as if it is binding. If both co-parents want the changes to be added to the court order, they will have to go to family court and record their changes formally.
If it’s difficult to discuss things with your co-parent, there are other ways to make changes to your custody agreement that is quicker than getting a lawyer and waiting for a court date. You could employ a private mediator who is an unbiased third party trained in facilitating agreements between disgruntled parties. Or, go to the Self-Help Clinic at the courthouse and ask for a family court facilitator to help you. Family court facilitators are licensed attorneys who can walk you through the paperwork needed to achieve your goals.
Finally, and perhaps the simplest solution is to use a co-parenting app. The app is specifically designed to help parents communicate, manage, and organize everyday co-parenting responsibilities, including custody agreements. With the co-parenting app, you can create court-ready custody plans as well as make changes to previously agreed upon plans. This is especially helpful if it is difficult to discuss things with your co-parent as you will have a licensed professional help to mediate the process.