Life moves fast when raising children, and with time, things change and that may present grounds for modification of visitation schedule.
There are a number of reasons that may signal the custodial parent is unfit to continue physical custody of the child, or the non-custodial parent to become a better fit to enjoy more parental time.
In this article, we focus on the non-custodial parent since he or she is the one who is likely to request a change of visitation schedule to have more time with the child or children.
There is also a possibility where the custodial parent may seek the court to have visitation orders previously issued to be reviewed or terminated due to changes that may be unfavorable for the child.
It is also possible for both parents to sit down and discuss the changes that they may want regarding visitation. This is through mutual agreements based on the current situation of both parents.
Of course, there are a good number of reasons why one parent may want to have the visitation schedule changed.
Reasons to Change Visitation Schedule
Changing the visitation schedule is not an easy process. But with sufficient evidence, it is possible to have a visitation order modified by the court, or through mutual agreement with the other parent. Some of the grounds for change include:
If the child is unsafe
The safety of the child or children is the court’s priority. When the residential parent is unable to provide that safety and security of the child or children, or subjects children to harmful environments, that is enough reason to have visitation orders changed.
This will probably grant more time to the non-custodial parent who may provide a better environment for the kids to stay.
The other parent who is the non-custodial may request the court to look at the issue directly or through an attorney. The application to have the visitation terms changed on the grounds of the other parent subjecting a child to danger is a weighty matter that is taken seriously by the court.
One parent is relocating
Relocation does not only affect the child but also the other parent who had been granted visitation rights on particular days. When the custodial parent relocates, it may become difficult for the other parent to travel and pick up the child or children. This will depend on the distance to travel to the new location.
If there are mutual agreements by the parents to relocate and modify the visitation schedule, that would be easier to be approved by the court than when the custodial parent is not willing to cooperate or negotiate.
Relocation may also affect the child in terms of access to social amenities such as good schools and this is grounds for the non-custodial parent to file for a modification of visitation orders or even physical custody of the child.
Change in the Child’s needs / wants
As the child grows and matures, his or her needs may change. He may realize the importance of spending time with the other parent that may be contrary to what is already in the visitation order.
A child who has grown to an age where he or she can make decisions and wishes to have visitation orders changed can easily be granted by the court.
A child may also wish to spend all the time with the custodial parent and that means, the court will have to issue new visitation orders based on the decision of the child if that is in their best interests.
One parent becomes unfit
From the time when the custody decision was made, the other parent may develop some behaviors that are deemed unfit to continue enjoying visitation rights. Such changes could include:
- Excessive involvement in drug and substance abuse.
- Mental illness or incapacity.
- Unreasonable violent behavior.
- Involvement in criminal behaviors and activities.
When the custodial parent discovers that the other parent is unfit, or when the child or children begin to complain about the behaviors of the other parent, it presents a situation for the custodial parent to seek visitation modification.
The other parent subjects the child to unfavorable environment
When the other parent moves to a new place or neighborhood that is not safe or fit for the child, the concerned parent may contest to have visitation orders altered by the court.
The court while granting visitation rights would consider the safety of the child to ensure that he is safe and protected. Therefore, if after some time the other parent moves to a different environment, the court may change visitation if the environment is unsafe or unfavorable.
Non-custodial parent achieves stability
Perhaps at the time of the courts’ decision, one of the parents was not stable enough to be granted custody of the child or even visitation that he or she was seeking. When he or she gains that stability after some time, he may seek the court to revisit the visitation schedule and have it modified to suit his or her current state.
He or she can also negotiate with the custodial parent and agree to have the visitation orders changed, if the custodial parent is willing to cooperate.
If the custodial parent is not cooperative, the other parent may appeal to the court and have the visitation schedule changed. If the court finds sufficient grounds, it will consider the application.
When a custodial parent dies
This is not normally prepared for by the court but when it happens, the other parent may seek the court to have full custody over the child or children. The court will still examine the situation, and if the parent is suitable, he or she will be granted full custodial rights.
If the living parent is not suitable or fit, the court will grant custodial rights to a third party who may be a close family member or a grandparent.
When the court shifts physical custody of the child to a third party, the other parent may seek the court to have his visitation schedule changed to enjoy more time with the child or children.
How to Change Visitation Schedule
Seeking to have visitation modified or changed is only possible when there are sufficient grounds to warrant change as we have discussed above.
There are options to get the visitation schedule changed and that could be through mutual agreement with the custodial parent, through the mediation process, or by seeking the indulgence of the court.
Negotiation with the other parent
If the custodial parent is reasonable and understands the interests of the child or children, he or she may agree to a discussion to have the previous visitation order revised to suit current changes. This is the easiest way to have visitation orders modified. However, it only happens when the other parent is willing to cooperate and understands the need for change.
Negotiation is a less costly process and when the agreements are reached by both parents, whether with the help of an attorney or a notary, such agreements are presented in court to have them approved.
Mediation is also an alternative to the courtroom where a mediator helps the parents in discussing the areas of modifications. The mediator is only a facilitator, not a decision maker, but is much less costly than the court process.
It could be a result of the court’s recommendation to have both parents mediate their case and the adjustments that they are seeking.
After mediation, the parents can then get the agreement fortified by the court. However, it is not a guarantee that both parents will agree on visitation terms at this stage. If they do not agree, then the court process becomes inevitable.
Seeking order from the court
This is the last resort when the parties have failed to agree to solve their issues regarding visitation. It can happen if one of the parents is seeking too much of what was previously agreed upon or the other parent is hostile and not willing to cooperate.
When this is the case, the non-custodial parent may seek the help of a lawyer who will help file an application with the court to have the current visitation schedule changed.
After a petition is filed, both parents will attend a hearing where the judge will consider the options presented and the need for change. If the grounds and evidence are sufficient to the court, the judge will then approve the changes and the new visitation order is signed.
The disadvantage of this process is that it is time and resource-consuming. You may need to hire a good lawyer or use your previous lawyer to have these changes negotiated well in court.
Though a change of visitation schedule is possible, it is not a guarantee that the changes that you are seeking will be granted by the court.
This is because the court would consider other factors that may include the time the original custody has been in place before seeking alteration, a major change that is sufficient to have visitation schedule modified, and also whether the change is in the best interests of the child or not.