The Rationale Behind Modifying a Child Custody Agreement

Cheerful woman helping daughter doing homework. Happy mother assisting her daughter with school homework in living room.

When you’ve been through a divorce and you have children, while the divorce itself might be final, you’re really not “done” with the process until your children have turned 18 and graduated from high school, meaning they are no longer minors. This is because situations can – and will – change, and you are likely to need to modify your child custody agreements. There are several different reasons to modify child custody agreements. No matter what they are, it can be beneficial to you and your co-parent to use a mediator to modify them, even if you didn’t use a mediator your divorce originally.

Using a mediator to modify child custody agreements can be beneficial to you, your co-parent, and your children because it allows you both to work together to craft a plan that is going to work for all of you in these changing circumstances. This plan would be something that works for both of you and your children and isn’t up to a judge, who doesn’t know you or your children, to make that decision.

3 Reasons to Modify Child Custody

While your child custody agreements are always modifiable and can be modified by agreement on your own, with a mediator, or by going to court, there are some common reasons to modify child custody agreements.

One parent moves.

When you put together your parenting plan, one of the things that may have impacted the plan was where you were both going to be living, whether that was near each other or a far drive or even a plane ride. If one parent decides to move, then it is very likely that the current plan won’t continue to work unless the move is very nearby.

No matter where you move you need to make sure to let the other parent know what your new address is so that they are informed about where the children will be.  If you’re planning to move farther away from where you live currently and especially if it will impact travel times and potentially distance from the children’s school, then it can be helpful to talk with the other parent before you plan to move.  

Now if you decide that you want to move out of the county that you (and the children) currently live in, then you will need a written agreement or court order for the children to move. But even moving within the country can change things, because the plan you currently have in place may not work anymore.  

By planning and talking with your co-parent, you can both decide whether the move is going to impact your current agreement and what might need to be modified.

As the children get older.

As your children get older, it is inevitable that things will to change. It’s very likely that the plan you put in place may not continue to work, especially if the children were very young when you first divorced.

You may find that the plan you had in place when they were young allowed for more back and forth, with less time away from either parent. As the children get older, they want to stay in one place for longer periods of time, and they’re OK going five to seven days with just one parent.  

As an experienced family mediator and attorney, there are things developmentally that we consider about the children’s ages when putting together a parenting plan. For example:

  • How long they can spend away from either parent,
  • How often they want to go back and forth, and
  • Whether they need to spend more time with one parent.

What works when children are say, 2 and 4, may very well need to be updated when they’re 5 and 7 and in school full time. Knowing that you can always modify your child custody agreement allows you and your co-parent to consider the current needs of your children, and not feel stuck in a plan that worked for a two-year-old but doesn’t work for a ten-year-old.

Something isn’t working.

An always valid reason to modify child custody agreements is that something just isn’t working. When we craft these agreements, either in mediation or through court order, we can’t anticipate everything that is going to happen. It’s inevitable that something might not work how you anticipated, and you need to make changes.

It’s OK to admit that something isn’t working, and that changes need to be made and hopefully your co-parent will be responsive to working with you on making these changes.

If you need to modify your child custody agreement, working with a mediator can be a great way to come up with a new plan. Contact West Coast Family Mediation for a free and confidential consultation, at any stage of your divorce. 

by: Amanda Singer, Esq., MDR, CDFA®

Amanda Singer with west coast family mediation center

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