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Can you deviate from your parenting plan?

As we discussed last week, summer vacation often means divorced and separated parents will be switching to a different parenting schedule. After all, with kids out of school and vacations planned, your regular routine just doesn't work. Or, maybe you've agreed that your kids will spend the summer living with their other parent.

Let's say, though, that you've stumbled upon a fabulous family vacation package while browsing the internet one night. You know your kids would love this opportunity, but it's only available during their other parent's visitation time. Can you deviate from your established summer parenting schedule?

Making temporary changes to your parenting plan

When you created your parenting plan, you likely went through several rounds of negotiation to find the perfect fit for your family. Maybe a judge had to step in and make a final determination on what would uphold your children's best interests. Either way, once you signed that parenting agreement, it felt final.

That isn't to say that you can't negotiate temporary changes after the fact, however. The court knows that life happens, and that temporary changes may be necessary in the future.

Deviating from your parenting plan really depends on your ability to communicate and compromise with your co-parent. If you work well together, negotiating a temporary modification of your summer parenting schedule shouldn't be a problem. Offer to give your co-parent an extra week with the kids later in the summer, or even a coveted holiday. The possibilities are virtually endless, and you don't need to get the court's permission if you both agree to the terms. Entering negotiations in the spirit of compromise and cooperation means everyone wins.

Talk before you act

All of that said, custody agreements are legally binding. Deviating from your established agreement could be grounds for enforcement if you do not discuss changes ahead of time. More serious cases could escalate into charges of kidnapping or contempt (or both). So, tread carefully before finalizing plans without consulting your co-parent.

Some divorced parents find it useful to work with a professional parenting coordinator (PC). Parenting coordinators are highly trained mental health or legal professionals who specialize in resolving post-separation parental disputes. The PC helps families by:

  • Advocating for the children's physical, mental and emotional needs
  • Helping parents establish healthy communication habits
  • Facilitating parental discussions as a neutral third party
  • Educating parents on how to co-parent effectively
  • Making temporary decisions on the family's behalf (based on court approval or approval of the parents)

A PC's goal will always be to help parents develop a successful co-parenting relationship. You don't have to be best friends with your ex, but you should be able to work with them when it comes to parenting your children. A PC can help you get to that stage.

Remember, when it comes to successful co-parenting, your kids' needs should come first. With time and a little practice, most parents develop a solid routine for how to negotiate temporary changes to their parenting plans.

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