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Reasons You Can (and Can’t) Change Your Child Custody Arrangement

David Scott, P.A. Aug. 21, 2022

When a judge gives you and your ex a child custody arrangement (called “time sharing” in Florida), it may be an arrangement that fits your child’s needs at the time. As all parents know, though, children are always growing and their needs are always changing. Moreover, parental circumstances that may impact time sharing can change as well. A few years down the line, everyone may benefit more from a different time sharing arrangement.

Because of this, Florida law allows parents to change their time sharing arrangement. That doesn’t mean that changing it is necessarily easy, though – especially if one parent does not agree to the changes.

To make matters even more complicated, the changes that warrant a new time sharing arrangement aren’t exactly cut and dry, either. Even if you believe your situation fits Florida’s requirements for child custody modification, you will have to prove this to a judge in court.

When You Can Change Your Time Sharing Plan

When you both agree on a new parenting plan. What is the easiest way to change your time sharing arrangement? Find a schedule that satisfies both you and your co-parent. When you both agree on a change, modifying a time sharing arrangement can be an easy process. The only trouble comes when two parents are arguing over the right to see a child or to be the child’s custodial parent.

After filing a protective order. If you or your child is in danger around your co-parent, you should call a lawyer immediately. You may have to file a protective order with the courts. Protective orders are temporary, but can provide emergency relief if you are feeling threatened by your ex. In the protection order, a judge may demand that custody of the child be handed over to the other parent, or grant sole custody until the protection order is lifted.

Substantial change of circumstances. Sometimes life can change in the blink of an eye. Other times, it happens gradually. Maybe you have to change your child custody arrangement because you’ve moved states for your job, or your financial situation improved and you feel that you can support and spend more time focusing on being a parent. Changes like these may seem like valid reasons for altering your time sharing agreement, but it takes something big to convince the Florida court system.

In our state, you must be able to prove that these changes are “substantial” enough to alter a time sharing agreement.

If you think “substantial” sounds vague, you’re not alone. That’s why the Florida court system has come up with tests to use to determine how “substantial” a change in circumstances is.

In the past, a non-custodial parent would have to prove that a child staying with a parent would be “detrimental” to their well-being. Currently, in addition to “substantial” changes, you want to prove that this change in circumstances is a material change, and was unanticipated by either party.

The following situations could, hypothetically, fit all three of Florida’s guidelines for changing time sharing arrangements:

  • The parent develops an addiction and cannot financially care for his or her child

  • Moving out of the state without consulting the court

  • The parent’s behavior caused a dramatic change in the child’s physical health, mental health, or overall wellbeing

  • The parent consistently goes against the parenting plan developed when time sharing was initially decided

It is important to remember, though, that these terms are broad, and situations like the above examples do not guarantee a change in time sharing arrangements.

When are Changes Not Considered “Substantial?”

Changing time sharing arrangements is not as easy as changing child support or alimony payments. You cannot determine the best interests of a child with a calculator.

In other words, while it is completely reasonable and possible to petition to modify your alimony or child support payments after getting a new job, this probably would not be enough to change time sharing plans. Even an isolated incident of domestic violence may not be enough to convince a judge that a time sharing arrangement should be modified.

With these broad guidelines, your best bet for getting the results you want is to contact a Florida family lawyer and make a serious case against your co-parent. The lawyer representing you can use his or her experience in family law to prove your abilities and importance to your child as a custodial parent, and get the time sharing plan that best suits your life and benefits your child.

For more information on how a lawyer can help you through custody and time sharing court processes, get in touch with us.