Life Changes and So Can Parenting Plans: The Modification Process
When couples divorce, crafting a parenting plan to regulate child custody is one of the more challenging aspects of the process. The age of the child and the employment of each parent are major factors affecting the type of arrangement that best suits the circumstances of the family. The best interests of the child is the primary motivating factor in these decisions, but discerning what a child needs to ensure the best possible opportunity to develop is likely to change over time. What is best for a child at the age of six is likely to differ substantially from what a child might need at the age of 15.
Further, the circumstances of the parents may change as jobs come and go and other life adjustments are made over time. As a result, allocating parenting time and responsibilities may need to be shifted to address the changing needs of the child and the ability of each parent to adequately fulfill these responsibilities. While each parent is obligated to follow the terms of a parenting plan, Illinois law does allow parents to request modification under certain circumstances.
When a Request May Be Filed
Generally, once the parenting responsibilities of each party are established, the parents must wait two years from issuance to request a modification. Note that the clock starts on this two-year period when the Court's order is reduced to writing and officially entered into the record, and not when a Judge orally approves the plan at a hearing. However, there are circumstances where a Court is authorized to modify parenting responsibilities regardless of when the previous award was issued, including when:
- The parents mutually agree to modification, provided the change is in the child's best interests;
- The parents jointly agree to waive the two-year waiting period; or
- The child's current environment presents serious risks to the child's physical or mental health or emotional development.
Parenting time schedules are modifiable at any time if circumstances have changed, and a modification serves the child's best interests.
When Modification is Required
Illinois directs Judges to grant modification of parenting responsibilities if two factors are present:
- Substantial and unanticipated changes arose since the last award in either the child's or parents' situations; and
- Modification is necessary to serve the child's best interests.
When Modification is Permissible
A Court is still permitted to modify parenting responsibilities if no substantial change in circumstances occurred, but it nevertheless serves the child's best interests, and any of the following are true:
- The modification requested is the actual arrangement the parties have followed for the previous six months without objection;
- The modification is minor;
- If the Court knew of the circumstances at the time the original award was granted, then the Court would not have approved the issued parenting plan; or
- The parties agree to the modification.
One last note on parental responsibilities awards concerns the inclusion of a provision that the award is not modifiable — Courts are not bound by these clauses, and always retain authority to modify child custody issues if the child's best interests demand change.
Talk to a Family Law Attorney
As a parent, dealing with a child-related dispute is hard. You want to do what is best for your child, while also protecting your interests as a parent. Passionate Palatine family law attorney Nicholas W. Richardson understands the struggles associated with finding resolutions for child-related issues, and will work to craft a coordinated solution that will benefit your child in the long-term. If you live in northwest Chicagoland, contact the office today for a free consultation.