In divorce proceedings, parties frequently agree to parenting time. Sometimes, however, a judge makes the decision about the division of parenting responsibilities. These decisions, whether made by the parties or the court, are made with the best interests of the children in mind. Of course, the circumstances of each parent are also taken into consideration. As time goes on, the circumstances of the parents may change. When this happens, a modification of the previously agreed to (or ordered) parenting time might be appropriate.
However, parties can’t simply unilaterally decide to modify parenting time. Instead, there are rules and procedures that must be followed. Requests to modify parenting time can be extremely easy, or incredibly challenging, based on various circumstances. These circumstances can include the willingness of the other parent to modify parenting time, the circumstances as they currently exist, the circumstances at the time of the divorce, and other factors. Below are some of the mistakes family law attorneys see most frequently in requests for parenting time modification.
1. Failure to Show a Sufficient Change in Circumstance
In Maryland, changing a previously issued parenting time order requires, first, a material change in circumstances. A material change in circumstances contemplates something significant. Courts have previously declared a child getting older, for example, is not considered a material change under the law. Courts have also found a custodial parent’s dating, and a child’s interaction with new people, are not considered material changes in circumstances such that a modification of parenting time is warranted.
Even where a party can show a material change in circumstance, the analysis is not complete. Parties petitioning for a parenting time modification in Maryland must also show that the modification would be in the best interests of the child. This showing is separate and apart from the initial showing of a material change in circumstance. Both factors must exist before courts consider granting a motion to modify a parenting time order.
2. Failure to Provide the Court with Critical Information
Often times, after a couple has been divorced for some period, oversights and omissions in the original divorce decree become apparent. Perhaps this is because the parties originally represented themselves. Alternatively, they may not have considered carefully the advice of counsel. Another explanation is simply that, what seemed to make sense at the time, has become a system that isn’t working, despite good intentions.
When a parenting time modification request is before the court, this is the time to request what will best meet the needs of your family. From spelling out the arrangements for the Labor Day weekend to detailing the parenting time for the annual family reunion, where parenting time on a given day, or during a specific occasion or event is important to a party, this should be spelled out for the court. The failure to provide precise details for days or events that are important to the parties can lead to disappointment down the road. Don’t let this opportunity pass.
3. Failure to Observe the Current Parenting Time Arrangement
Regardless of your disagreement with the current arrangement, you should follow it until another order is in place. Courts do not look favorably on parents who withhold parenting time. In fact, such interference could result in a modification of child custody – not in your favor. At all times leading up to filing for a change in parenting time, you should make sure to follow the current parenting time order. This same rule applies after you file, unless or until the court modifies parenting time. Failing to follow a court order conveys, at a minimum, a lack of respect for the court. It also demonstrates a willingness to ignore the court. This will not cast you in the best, or most favorable light.
4. Failure to Remember the Children Come First
Maryland caselaw includes cases where the court found the conduct of the custodial parent so egregious, and so contradictory to the children’s best interests, the court modified the order, switching the custodial parent. For example, in one case, the custodial parent allowed her child to refer to her new partner as “daddy.” This resulted in the child’s father petitioning for a change in custody. The court found the mother’s “immature and selfish” behavior a basis for modifying parenting time in favor of the father. Similarly, where a custodial parent physically attached the partner of their ex-spouse, the court found this, along with other alarming behavior, formed a basis for a modification in custody.
5. Failure to Retain a Family Law Attorney
An attorney experienced in family law is critical in cases where a party seeks parenting time modification. While the parties may represent themselves, this doesn’t mean doing so is a good idea. Courts make parenting time determinations based on court rules, statutes for the state of Maryland, and case law. Courts have broad discretion determining whether and how to modify an existing parenting time order. Frequently, parties find they are unable to leave their emotions at the front door of the courthouse. An attorney can provide dispassionate representation of your interests – and the interests of your children.
Given all these factors, an experienced advocate on your side better positions you for your parenting modification request.
If You Are Seeking a Parenting Time Modification. . .
If you are seeking a modification to a parenting time order, or if you are wondering if a modification might be appropriate in your case, contact the attorneys at Fait & DiLima. Our experienced, compassionate attorneys are ready to assist you with your case. Call us at (301) 251-0100 to set up an appointment today.