Can custody agreements be changed?
I have a client whose daughter no longer wants to visit her dad, despite a shared parenting agreement that splits her time with both parents.
The daughter is 13 and, as anyone who has raised a child probably knows is entering a time of life when priorities change. For a newly minted teenager, friends may take on more significance than a parent, or switching between parental homes may no longer seem appealing.
In the case of my client, the daughter isn’t getting along well with her dad and feels miserable when at his house for any length of time. Now she is digging in her heels and refusing to go.
So what should Mom do?
First of all, she can’t make a unilateral decision that daughter can just stop seeing dad.
In most circumstances in Florida, she won’t have that right. The state’s policy is that minor children benefit from frequent and continuing contact with both parents. It’s why the courts no longer name a custodial and non-custodial parent. Instead, parents create timesharing agreements in a parenting plan that must be approved by the court as part of the divorce process.
Parents can ask for a modification of timesharing agreements, however, if they feel that is good for the child. In my opinion, working that out privately between the mother and father is much better than going to court. I believe that fighting in court over parenting issues is costly not only financially but also emotionally.
Later in this post, I’ll talk more about how to negotiate between parents. But first I want to say more about what Florida family law requires for a judge to modify parenting and timesharing agreement.
The state of Florida sets a very high standard and requires parents to meet “an extraordinary burden” when bringing a petition for modification to court. There must be proof of a substantial change of circumstances and that altering the timesharing agreement is in the best interest of the child.
I’ve had clients call and tell me they’ve remarried and now have much more stable home environments. So wouldn’t that mean they can now ask for full custody? No, it doesn’t.
The state won’t consider a remarriage to be a substantial change of circumstances. And by the way, a child’s objection to abiding by the timesharing agreement won’t fly either, according to Florida family law.
Some of what the court might consider includes relocation of the parent; difficulties in carrying out joint custody; the parent’s mental and physical health; parental involvement in the child’s life; parenting skills and financial stability.
These types of circumstances aren’t always easy to prove. For instance, in one case a parent claimed the daughter was being harmed because her mother had moved and changed jobs five times and had lived with an abusive boyfriend. The court denied the request, saying there was no proof those factors caused the daughter’s behavioral problems.
I’d advise my client whose daughter doesn’t want to see dad to talk with her daughter and ex-spouse. A start is to find out why the daughter doesn’t want to go to her father’s.
Say that mom discovers in a heart-to-heart talk with the daughter that dad is gone a lot and daughter has to spend most of her time alone at his house. An alternative would be to then talk with dad. Can he understand that his daughter needs more attention from him and how that could forge a better relationship?
If co-parenting with an ex-spouse isn’t easy, there are tips on how to do this despite all the negative feelings. After all, being civil to your child’s mother or father has a huge payback: It’s really better for your child when his or her parents aren’t constantly at war.
An option to talking directly to the ex-spouse about a difficult topic is to communicate through a therapist or someone that both ex-spouses trust, like a family friend.
Meanwhile, if you’re just emerging from a divorce, I hope you’re breathing a big sigh of relief and making plans for a new life. As part of those plans, keep your family law attorney’s contact information, especially if you have minor children.
There may be times when your household runs into a problem that the attorney can help solve. And I’d like to think that post-divorce, any solutions could be developed without going to court.
At the Law Office of Jeanne Coleman, we’ve helped thousands of clients get through a divorce in ways that aim for less conflict and better outcomes. If you’re considering divorce, contact us today at 813-253-3820 for a free 20-minute consultation.