Modifying Your Parenting Plan, Schedule or Child Support

To modify court orders — including a parenting plan, parenting time schedule and child support award — you have two options: Agree on changes with the other parent, or ask the court to rule on disputed changes.

Either way, the court will only modify orders under certain circumstances. First and foremost, it must consider any modification to be in the best interests of the children.

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To avoid the need for modifications, address anticipated changes when you write your parenting plan. For example, parents of a toddler can include a new schedule for when the child starts kindergarten.

For information specific to the largest U.S. states, see our guides to custody orders in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Requirements for modifying plans and schedules

Generally, courts only order modifications if a family can prove a significant change in circumstances, such as:

  • A long-distance move
  • A long-term change to a parent's work schedule
  • A change in a parent's ability to care for the child
  • A shift in the child's needs due to age, health, etc.

However, some courts don't require a change in circumstances if evidence shows the current orders don't meet the children's needs. And requirements may be less stringent for parents who agree on a modification than for parents who disagree.

In a few states, children can choose which parent to live with once they reach a certain age (e.g., 14 years old in Georgia).

Some states place time frames on modifications (with exceptions for extraordinary circumstances). For example, Virginia courts only modify if it's been at least six months since orders were issued, and Illinois courts only modify if it's been two years.

Evidence that you meet requirements

You'll have to present evidence of the need for modified orders and of any relevant changes in your family's life. Common evidence includes:

  • A report that shows actual parenting time compared to scheduled time
  • A custody journal with notes about problems as they occurred
  • Records showing that police or the court had to enforce custody orders
  • Documents demonstrating a parent's new work schedule or move
  • Statements from doctors, teachers, caregivers and other witnesses
  • Medical, school, work, criminal and other official records
  • Photos, emails, texts, social media posts and other unofficial records

Requirements for modifying child support

If your child support payment is based on parenting time, the court automatically adjusts the payment when it issues new orders for parenting time.

All U.S. states have child support enforcement programs, which can help with modifications. Many of these programs let parents periodically request a child support recalculation — for example, every three years.

Otherwise, to modify child support, your family must have had a significant change in finances. Some courts require that a parent's income change by a particular percentage, while others require evidence of an involuntary job loss. Some also modify support if a child's medical expenses increase by a certain amount.

When a parent isn't paying support on time or in full, the court may modify the order so payments are automatically deducted from the parent's paychecks.

Agreeing to modifications

When you agree with the other parent to stray slightly from a court order — for example, by moving a weekly exchange by a few hours — you don't need to get court approval or amend the order.

For bigger changes and any affecting child support, you have to do both. Submit your agreement to the court with a motion for an uncontested modification and any evidence. A judge will review the request, possibly in a hearing.

To help you reach an agreement, you can use a mediator, parenting coordinator, religious adviser, etc. You can even stipulate in your parenting plan what dispute resolution method you'll use to decide issues.

Asking the court to decide modifications

When parents can't agree, they go through litigation, which ends with a judge (or court referee) deciding modifications in a hearing. The court might grant either parent's requested modifications, come up with different changes or decline to modify the orders.

Prior to the hearing, many courts refer parents to mediation to encourage an agreement. If a parent alleges abuse or other safety concerns, the court might order an evaluation.

The wait time for a modification hearing depends on the court's calendar and how it prioritizes requests. Parents may wait a couple weeks or a few months, though they can request an expedited hearing if the children face immediate risk. Parents must follow the most recent orders while they wait.

At the hearing, both parents can present evidence, which the judge considers along with reports from any evaluations. When children are mature enough to understand the situation, the court also considers their preferences, which they can communicate through signed statements, an attorney for the child, a custody evaluator or a private interview with the judge. Children rarely testify in court.

In some states (e.g., Florida and Kentucky), the judge who issued the case's original orders also decides modifications.

Staying organized through the modification process

Modifying court orders can be as complicated as getting them in the first place. Organization and preparation are essential.

During your initial case, create a parenting plan that explains how you'll handle modifications.

After you get orders, gather information to prepare for the possibility of modifying. Track the time each parent spends with the children, keep a custody journal, save conversations with the other parent, etc.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of this in one place.

With a parenting plan template, a parenting time tracker, a digital journal, parent-to-parent messaging and more, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for every turn in your custody journey.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of your custody situation from the very beginning until your children become adults.

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