Modification of Parenting Plan

When parents divorce and they share children under the age of 18, the court will place a parenting plan into effect. A parenting plan defines the duties that both parents have to care for the children. It also may detail the extent to which each parent has the authority to make decisions on behalf of their children. Issues involving schooling, travel, and medical care are often governed by parenting plans.

The original parenting plan the court issues with a divorce ruling explains the essential details of a co-parenting and child custody arrangement. The terms of a parenting agreement may address (but are not limited to):

  • Division of responsibility between the two parents for childcare responsibilities
  • Who is authorized to make major life decisions on behalf of a child
  • Time-share planning and setting out schedules for parenting time (also called visitation)
  • Communication between the parent and child, including what methods and technologies the parent will use to stay in touch
  • Communication between co-parents, including when they will touch base with one another and by what method(s) of technology or in-person interaction
  • How holidays and special occasions will be navigated
  • Other important details concerning the collaborative care of a child

Sometimes, after a divorce is final, an adjustment in circumstances or a child's needs results in a desire to modify the original terms of the parenting plan. Unless both parents agree to a proposed modification, there are some eligibility criteria that must be met before a unilateral request for modification will be granted by the court.

Florida Modification of Parenting Plan Attorney

If you are interested in modifying a parenting plan, Bacchus Law Firm is here for you. We understand that your primary concern is your relationship with your children and will help you find a solution that is most beneficial to them. As experienced family law attorneys, we are well-versed in state laws governing our practice areas.

To schedule a free consultation with Bacchus Law Firm today, call (954) 500-5555. Our offices are centrally located at 401 E. Las Olas Blvd. in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, just minutes from the Broward County Central Courthouse.

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Requirements: Modifying A Parenting Plan

The courts do not want to be overwhelmed with requests for changes every time parents disagree about parenting. Nor do they want to be petitioned repeatedly by one parent who is unhappy with the original plan and essentially wants a "do-over" so that they can make changes to the original parenting plan terms.

As a result, the law states that the requirement of a "substantial, material, and unforeseen change" of circumstances must be met before a court will consider a petition for unilateral modification of a parenting plan. To unilaterally modify the existing terms of a parenting plan, a parent must show that there has been a major change in circumstances that substantiate a genuine need for modification.

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Defining 'Substantial Change In Circumstances'

The law in Florida indicates that courts will only grant a unilateral or contested petition for a parenting plan modification if a parent can show a "substantial, material, and unforeseen change in circumstances" has occurred since the original plan was enacted.

A change is generally considered to be substantial when it results in a permanent new situation or one that will both last for a significant amount of time and will have a significant impact on both parents' relationship with their child.

A change is considered to be unforeseen when it results from circumstances that were not known at the time the original plan was created and when it was made permanent in the divorce ruling. Meaning, for example, a parent can't have been planning an out-of-state job change during a divorce proceeding only to petition the court a few months later indicating that they didn't know they'd need a parenting plan to accommodate a major move.

Some examples of substantial changes include cases wherein one parent has been sentenced to a term of incarceration, a parent is dealing with an unexpected illness, or there has been some other dramatic life change that has an impact on how one or both parents are now rendered newly able or unable to care for their child. Similarly, if a child's needs shift dramatically, perhaps due to a traumatic injury or serious illness, their evolved needs may provoke a solid reason to request a modification of parenting plan terms.

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Best Interests Of The Child

There are virtually unlimited reasons why a parent may want to modify a parenting plan, but the court's decision to approve a unilateral modification request or not will always come down to what is in the child's best interests.

In all cases, the court will be most concerned about whether the best interests of the child are properly reflected in the parenting plan. It will also assess the reality of how the two parents together, or one of the parents primarily, can or can't properly provide for the child's needs. Generally, a parent must show that the original plan is not enabling the child to have a stable, healthy, happy, adjusted, and/or safe life or that new circumstances will have a negative impact on the child's life. The logic of modification is that altering the terms of the original agreement will help with these issues. If the petitioning parent can prove their case, the court may consider granting the modification request.

The non-petitioning parent may disagree and can explain why they believe that a change in the parenting plan isn't needed or will do more harm than good. In cases of a dispute over the modification, the court will hold a hearing or a trial to listen to both sides explain why they think a modification is or isn't needed and decide based on the court's understanding of which position accurately reflects the child's best interests.

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The Process Of Modifying A Parenting Plan

A detailed process must be followed before the court grants approval of a modification request concerning a parenting plan. It's a good idea to consult with an experienced family law attorney to ensure that you're following all the steps mandated by the court and that your position clearly reflects your child's best interests. Investing in legal counsel will place you in the best possible position for success.

In cases where parents have achieved a healthy approach to communication and they can agree that a modification to their parenting plan is the best thing for their child, it's possible to reach an agreement without court intervention. A judge still needs to sign off on any formal modifications to an existing parenting plan, but this process can be quick and low-stress if both parents agree that a modification is warranted.

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Petition To Modify a Parenting Plan

If the parents don't agree to the proposed changes to the plan, then there are quite a few steps that will need to be followed to get the modification considered by the court. The first step involves completing a court form called a Supplemental Petition to Modify Parental Responsibility, Visitation, or Parenting Plan. This document must be correctly filled out and filed with the court along with any supporting documentation required. There are other forms that may need to be filed as well, depending on the result desired from the modification. The original parenting plan must also be filed with the Petition to Modify the Parenting Plan as a reference for the court.

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Hearing Or Trial

Next, the court will schedule a hearing or trial to consider the request to modify the plan. If the parents agree on the modification, or if one parent chooses not to participate and must accept the court's judgment by default, the hearing will be quick and routine, with the court approving what has been requested in most cases.

When a modification is disputed, and the parents disagree about the "substantial change in circumstances" or what is in the child's best interests, the court will need to hold a more in-depth hearing to consider the proposed changes.

In court, the parent requesting the change can offer evidence and can even call witnesses to explain the change in circumstance that prompted the need for a modification. The other parent can respond with their own evidence and testimony. The court will consider both sides.

Eventually, the court will issue a ruling to grant or deny the request for modification. A ruling may be issued promptly or after time has passed. Sometimes, courts order that additional evidence should be gathered and presented before a ruling will be issued.

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Additional Resources

Florida Courts Parenting Plan Forms – The state offers resources and forms that explain the basic requirements of parenting plans in Florida divorce cases that involve minor children. There are forms available for standard parenting plans, relocation or long-distance parenting plans, supervised and safety-focused parenting plans, supplemental petitions to modify parenting plans, and more. Parents can review the forms and instructions for detailed information on what is required of a parenting plan and the factors that they will need to consider in creating a court-approved plan or plan modification.

Pamphlet for Parents Concerning Divorce – A publication of the Florida State Bar Association, this simple educational guide provides information about the impact of divorce on children, the basics of parenting plans, and resources to help those who are considering divorce or going through the process already.

Florida Department of Revenue Parenting Time Plans – In cases involving court-ordered child support, standard parenting plans are made available that comply with Florida laws. These plans are suited for Florida families as long as the child resides in Florida, both parents also live in Florida, and neither parent is incarcerated or subject to a restraining order related to contact with their former intimate partner or their child.

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Florida Modification of Parenting Plan Attorney | Broward County, FL

If you need help modifying a parenting plan, speak with an experienced family law attorney at Bacchus Law Firm today. We handle all aspects of Florida parenting plans by standing up for parents and the best interests of their children. Our legal team is prepared to answer any questions you may have.

Bacchus Law Firm serves clients in Miami, West Palm Beach, East Naples, and LaBelle, Florida. Call (954) 500-5555 to schedule a free consultation.

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