Skip to main content

What is the Standard for Amending Parenting Plans?

Most parenting plans drafted by experienced practitioners will include language along the following lines:
"Nothing contained in this Agreement shall preclude both parents from jointly and voluntarily modifying the above-described co-parenting schedule or from reaching agreements for the co-parenting of the children by the parents that are not in conformity with the foregoing co-parenting schedule provided that such modifications and agreements be reduced to a writing in advance and be signed and/or otherwise (e-mail) confirmed and/or otherwise ratified by both Parties. Either parent may request a modification of the foregoing parenting schedule from the other parent. Any modification of the parenting schedule shall be requested reasonably in advance, except in emergency situations. The Parties shall take into consideration the best interests of the children when discussing exceptions to the parenting schedule."
This language is intended to encourage parents to discuss necessary adjustments to their parenting plan to accommodate things that come up in every day life which can make a strict schedule impractical.

But what happens when a more permanent change is required?  If the parents can't reach an agreement as to whether a change is in the best interest of the children, then the court can decide whether a change is appropriate upon the filing of a Complaint for Modification.

Use our Parenting Calendar Worksheet
to help visualize proposed schedules
What standard does the court use in reviewing proposed changes to a Parenting Plan?

In a recent Massachusetts Appeals Court case, Diamond v. Diamond 82 Mass. App. Ct. 1124 (2012), the Appeals Court upheld a trial court judge's modification of a parenting plan, which added one additional overnight visit with the children in every two week period.

If it ain't broke don't fix it: The mother, who appealed, the decision, argued that the parenting plan was working, and that the court should, therefore, not make any changes to it.

Let's do the best we can: The court disagreed, finding that as long as there was a material change in circumstance that allowed for the court to hear a modification request, the trial court could make a change that will further the best interest of the children.

This is an important distinction between maintaining the status quo, if it is working, and making changes which the court is convinced will be better for the children.  If the changes haven't been tested, then the court can't know for sure, but the Appeals Court in Diamond confirmed that the trial court's discretion allows for such a change.

As a practical tip, this ability of the court to make untested changes at a Modification trial, might be a good argument for temporary orders in a non-emergency situation.  At least if a new schedule is tested in temporary orders we would that have information about whether it really was better for the children in practice.  This type of negotiated trial and error is also often encouraged in mediation and collaborative practice, both of which are options that probably could have saved these parties a lot of money.


Popular posts from this blog

New Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines (2021): Big Changes, Little Changes, Typos & some Unexpected Results

UPDATE: The court has released a web calculating version of the 2021 MA Child Support Guidelines Worksheet .  It resolves some of the typos referred to below, but the unexpected calculations still apply. Every four years, per federal mandate, the Massachusetts Probate & Family Court revisits the Child Support Guidelines through the work of a Task Force appointed by the Chief Justice.  The 2021 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines were recently posted.  They take effect on October 4, 2021.    If you are interested in a training on all of these changes to the new Child Support Guidelines: DMTA Presents the 2021 MA Child Support Guidelines Update  – Attend this event to learn the key updates you need to know for your mediation clients. Presented by Justin Kelsey of  Divorce Mediation Training Associates  and  Skylark Law & Mediation, PC . For a full comparison of all the  tracked changes between the 2018 and 2021 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines you can download a pdf sho

What is the purpose of the Divorce Nisi waiting period?

In Massachusetts the statutory waiting period after a Judgment of Divorce and before the divorce becomes final (or absolute) is called the Nisi period. After a divorce case settles or goes to trial, a Judgment of Divorce Nisi will issue and it will become Absolute after a further ninety (90) days. This waiting period serves the purpose of allowing parties to change their mind before the divorce becomes final. If the Judgment of Divorce Nisi has issued but not become final yet, and you and your spouse decide you don't want to get divorced, then you can file a Motion to Dismiss and the Judgment will be undone. Although many of my clients who are getting divorced think the idea of getting back together with their ex sounds crazy, I have had cases where this happened. In addition to offering a grace period to change your mind, the Nisi period has three other legal effects: 1. The most obvious effect of the waiting period is that you cannot remarry during the Nisi period, be

Online Tool for Creating Parenting Plans

It is our hope that all families find a way to resolve conflict peacefully.  This is especially true when children are involved.  Divorced or separated parenting has many complications and the first is just deciding how to share time with a child from two separate households.  Developing a schedule can result in a lot of tension, especially if parents have trouble picturing how this new schedule will interact with their work schedules and the schedules of their children. To help make this easier, we've created an online tool for creating parenting plans that is simple and easy to use: We encourage parents, regardless of the process they are using to divorce, to use this form to assist in evaluating and settling custody disputes. The form allows you to choose between the Model Parenting Plan proposals or customize your parenting plan over a four week period by clicking directly on the form.  When you click on a section of the calendar it switches between Mom and Dad, an