Dear Dr. Jann, I would like more time with my child, but her mother is hesitant to deviate from our current court order. She thinks it’s breaking the law. I don’t want to wait six weeks to see a judge and I can’t afford a lawyer. What options do I have?
-Discouraged Dad

 

Dear Discouraged Dad– I am not a family attorney, so I can’t give you legal advice, but I can offer suggestions to help you and your child’s mother better communicate. With effective communication, there will be no need to go back to family court if you want to make changes to your existing parenting plan.

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Many coParents don’t know that they don’t have to follow the parenting plan exactly as it’s written in a court order if both parents agree to particular changes. The keyword, in this case, is “agree.” The court order is really just a default plan. It’s the bare minimum of what parents must abide by, however you are welcome to add additional time if both parents agree. Family court wants you to be able to talk to your coParent and make changes if they are in the best interest of your children.

So, say one parent wants to go on an adult vacation or needs to switch weekends. The best alternative is to have a working relationship with your coParent that allows you to make those changes easily. Family court encourages coParents to work together, not against one another. If changes are needed, just write down the changes or additions–accompanied by proof that both parties agree–and place the document in your file as proof a new agreement was made. Even though the changes aren’t formalized in court, the document can still live as if it is binding. If both coParents want the changes to be added to the court order, they will have to go to family court and record their changes formally.

If it’s difficult to discuss things with your coParent, there are other ways to make changes to your custody agreement that is quicker than getting a lawyer and waiting for a court date. You could employ a private mediator who is an unbiased third party trained in facilitating agreements between disgruntled parties. Or, go to the Self-Help Clinic at the courthouse and ask for a family court facilitator to help you. Family court facilitators are licensed attorneys who can walk you through the paperwork needed to achieve your goals.

Finally, and perhaps the simplest solution is to use a coParenting app. The app is specifically designed to help parents communicate, manage, and organize everyday coParenting responsibilities, including custody agreements. With the coParenting app, you can create court-ready custody plans as well as make changes to previously agreed upon plans. This is especially helpful if it is difficult to discuss things with your coParent as you will have a licensed professional help to mediate the process.

 

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About Jann Blackstone

Jann BlackstoneDr. Jann Blackstone specializes in divorce, child custody, co-parenting, and stepfamily mediation and is often called the “Relationship Expert for Today’s Relationships” because of her “real life, down-to-earth” approach to relationship problem solving. She is the author of six books on divorce and parenting, the most popular, the Ex-etiquette series featuring Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation. She is also the author of the Ex-etiquette syndicated column and a frequent guest or consultant on television and radio talk shows, including Good Morning America (ABC), The Today Show (NBC), Keeping Kids Healthy (PBS), the Early Show (CBS), and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She has been the featured expert in many magazines, including, Child, Parents, Parenting, Newsweek, Family Circle, More, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, BRIDES, Woman’s Day, and Working Mother Magazine.

In 1999, Dr. Jann founded and became the first Director of Bonus Families®, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization working to change the way society views stepfamilies by supplying up-to-date co-parenting information via its Web site, counseling, mediation, and a worldwide support group network. They prefer to use the word “bonus” to the word step. Step implies negative things; however, a “bonus” is a reward for a job well done. “Bonus…a step in the right direction.”

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