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 in order to get more time with my child?
Dear Discouraged Dad– I am not a family attorney, so I can’t give you legal advice, but I can offer suggestions.
Many co-parents don’t realize that they don’t have to follow the parenting plan exactly as it’s written in a court order, as long as both parents agree to the particular changes. The keyword, in this case, is “agree.” The court order is just a default plan. It’s the bare minimum of what parents must abide by, however you are welcome to add additional time or make changes 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 to prove 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 formally added to the court order, they will have to go to family court and record their changes with a judge.
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 and 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 a 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.
In summary, I would certainly recommend communicating with your co-parent and trying to work things out between the two of you or download a co-parenting app to help. Going back to court would be the last resort as it is quite costly and could take a long time to make changes you could easily make with your co-parent out of court. Having a written record of your mutual decisions prevents further aggravation, and a co-parenting app can easily help.