Courts in the State of Washington and elsewhere rarely modify parenting plans unless there has been a substantial change in circumstances. Nevertheless, parents are generally free to make changes themselves, provided that such changes are in a child’s best interests. Even when parents craft a comprehensive initial parenting plan, unforeseen events can occur, especially if children are very young when their parents first split.
Parents often realize that arrangements need adjusting near the end of a calendar year. A child may attend a new school with different starting and ending times. Or perhaps they have become deeply involved in a new extracurricular activity with complicated transportation requirements. A parent may have a new job in a different location or with a different schedule. Another parent may have remarried, perhaps gaining stepchildren in the bargain. Any of these things can turn a well-oiled plan into something unwieldy.
Revising Holiday Schedules
The approach of the winter holiday season also frequently highlights a need for change. Perhaps you lived a mile or so apart after you first divorced, and for the first few years, your children spent Thanksgiving morning with one parent and Thanksgiving afternoon with the other. Now you live 20 miles apart, and everyone would prefer to stay put and relax instead of driving back and forth.
Many parents struggle with dividing parenting time over the holidays. There is no one right way to share time. Focusing on the spirit of the season instead of insisting on a particular schedule generally leads to happier results. Parents who remain friendly sometimes consider spending part of a holiday together. Other parents need to maintain more distance. Think about establishing your own traditions regardless of the calendar. The most important thing is maintaining a calm environment for the children in each home.
If you and your co-parent can agree on all the details, you can work out your new parenting plan on your own. Even when both parents agree that things need to change, they will not necessarily agree on exactly how. If this is the case, scheduling a mediation session is often a good solution. A mediator who is also an experienced family law attorney will understand what types of plans might work best, given your family’s unique characteristics. The mediator will not take sides and will help you look objectively at your options.
Things to Include in Your Parenting Plan
No matter how you decide to divide your parenting time, be sure to include all the crucial details in your new plan. Don’t forget to review your cost-sharing responsibilities as well. Major changes in a residential schedule can affect child support obligations.
Be clear about who is responsible for drop-offs and pick-ups and when and where exchanges will occur. Set a start and end time for each holiday or each part of a holiday that a child will spend with a parent. If one parent has moved far enough away so children will need to travel, specify who will make travel arrangements and pay travel expenses. Agree to provide each other with travel Information, such as flight numbers, departure and arrival times, hotel information, and telephone contacts, well in advance of any planned trips.
Do you have questions about modifying a parenting plan? Whether your plan just needs a few tweaks or a complete overhaul, we can help.