How to Change Your Child Visitation Schedule

Child visitation is often one of the most contentious issues that comes up when parents separate or divorce. If you have a child visitation agreement or custody agreement in place and you want to make a change, there are several steps you will need to take. The first thing to realize, however, is that it may not always be possible to make a change to a child visitation schedule.

How to Change a Child Visitation Schedule

There are two main ways that a child visitation schedule may be changed:

  • By agreement of both parents
  • By order of the court

Changing a Child Visitation Schedule By Agreement of Both Parents

Whenever possible, courts encourage parents to create a child visitation or child custody agreement without litigation. This is usually done as part of a divorce separation agreement, or it can be done through the creation of a parenting plan. If the parents are able to successfully arrive at a schedule, the court will essentially “sign off” on it, or affirm it and make it legally valid and binding.

If a parenting plan has been created, or if a custody agreement is in place, and both parents agree to make a change, the court will usually agree with this as well and effect the change. In other words, if you and the other parent both make a motion to the court to change the visitation schedule, the court is essentially always going to grant that motion. The only exception would be if the court believed there was coercion or fraud involved in the agreement or if the court had convincing evidence that making the change would not be in the best interests of the child.

Changing a Child Visitation Schedule By Order of the Court

If you and the other parent do not agree on the change to the visitation schedule, things get much stickier. Here, the issue will have to be litigated and the court will make the decision as to whether the change is appropriate or not. You will begin this process by making a motion, or a formal request, to have a change made to the schedule. The rules for doing this can vary by state, but usually this means submitting legal paperwork to whatever court instituted your custody decree in the first place.

The other parent must be given notice of the request for the change of the child visitation schedule, which is referred to as being “served.” He or she will then have the opportunity to respond to your motion. Very often, a mediation is scheduled to encourage you to come up with something you can agree to without going to court. It is often a good idea to try to agree during mediation, because it is often the case that neither party is completely happy with the ruling made by the judge. If you cannot come to an agreement, a hearing will be scheduled and each side will be able to present his case to the judge to show why the change to the child visitation schedule should be made or not made, as the case may be.

When Will the Court Change the Child Visitation Schedule?

Making a motion to the court is not going to guarantee that a change will be made. There are several factors that come into play when a court considers a request for a change in visitation. Examples of key factors include:

  • How long has it been since the original custody order was put in place. In most states, there is a waiting period, usually of around two years, before the court will change a custody decree. There is typically an exception to this waiting period only if it is clear that the child will be harmed if the custody agreement is not amended earlier.
  • Has there been a material change in circumstances? The original visitation schedule and custody order was put into place for a reason. The court isn’t going to make a change to that unless there is a new reason to do so, or things have changed. A material change in circumstance usually has to be pretty major and has to be something that significantly changes the living situation. For example, if one parent wants to move out of state or if one parent develops or is cured from an addiction to drugs, these can be examples of material change.
  • What is in the best interests of the child? This, ultimately, is the key to what the court does. If the court believes a new visitation schedule would be in the best interests of the child, then the court is likely to accept the change.

Getting Help

If you wish to have your visitation schedule changed, you should strongly consider speaking with a lawyer for assistance in petitioning the court and making a convincing case.