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How to Modify Child Visitation Plans

A parent who is dissatisfied with a child visitation schedule or who thinks their parent-child relationship is harmed by a visitation plan has remedies available. There are several ways to modify the visitation schedule to improve the situation and parent-child relationship.

Court Petition

A parent can petition the court to make a change to a visitation plan order when there is a major change in circumstances, so long as the parent's proposed change is in the best interests of the children. After a hearing and presentation of evidence by at least the petitioning party, along with opposition from the responding parent, the court makes a determination and if it deems appropriate, enters an order modifying visitation that becomes the new governing plan.

Making Changes Outside of Court

However, there are also several ways to modify child visitation plans short of having to go to court for a hearing and protracted legal process:

Agreement of Parents to Modified Plan of Small Change(s) Submitted to Court – If parents are able to agree to a visitation change, they can prepare a written modified visitation plan setting forth their agreed terms to the court. This method of modification is predicated upon parents being able to talk calmly, as well as to work together to agree upon changes. The court, in turn, will likely enter an order adopting the new visitation schedule if the parties agree to it and it is in the best interests of the children.

Because courts are loathe to disrupt the stability and continuity of a child's routine and environment when not necessary, some courts require a further showing that the current visitation plan is harming the children. Notwithstanding that further showing required by some courts, a judge is less likely to question and heavily scrutinize that to which the parties agree.

This method is appropriate for small changes such as changing the day of week for visitation, adding a visit or overnight stay, changing visit times, and changing visit pick-up or drop-off locations.

Agreement of Parents to Modified Plan of Big Change(s) Submitted to Court – Often, large changes to a visitation schedule, such as changing the custodial parent, the cycle of custody and visitation, and the terms of legal custody are contested modifications, and court intervention is needed to resolve them. However, if parents are able to agree to proposed modifications even when changes are larger in scope and significance, court can be avoided. Parents need only submit to the court their agreed-upon proposed modifications and await entry of the court's order adopting same.

The new visitation schedule with its modifications becomes part of the custody order governing the parents' arrangement. Parents are bound to follow the order or they can be found in contempt of court.