I’ll be the first to say that co parenting isn’t easy. I mean, there’s a reason why you and your child’s father called it quits on your relationship, and there’s no doubt that the lingering feelings between the two of you make being parents together and presenting a united front incredibly difficult.
Even in the happiest marriages, moms and dads have big disagreements over how to raise children and the types of decisions they have to make in their children’s day to day lives. Combining two different people, from two different and separate families, with two different ideas about how children should be brought up, almost always creates friction at some point or another.
When the parents aren’t romantically involved anymore, those problems seem to multiply. But what can you do? If things aren’t working out between you and your child’s father in the co parenting department, what steps can you legally take? How can you make sure that your child’s needs are met? How can you, in short, be the best parent you can possibly be—and encourage him to do the same?
You want what’s best for your child, and you know that includes an involved dad. But your child’s father seems more interested in pushing your buttons than putting the child’s needs first. You’re not saying that you don’t want him involved, but you want to know that he’s coming from a place of maturity when it comes to how you decide to raise your child.
It’s hard to balance the competing interests, and there’s no question that moms and dads are different in their viewpoints and lifestyles. Still, for the sake of your child, you want to make sure that you take every step possible to make sure that your decision to co parent keeps your child’s best interests in mind—now and forever.
So, what can you do when you have co parenting problems?
Well, in the first place, it depends entirely on what those problems are—and how you envision them being solved. I’m assuming that you’re in a position where custody and visitation has already been determined. Either it was ordered by the juvenile or circuit court, or the two of you reached an agreement with respect to custody and visitation.
If you don’t have ANYTHING in place yet, that’s okay, too. This article is mostly designed to help moms who need to modify an existing custody agreement or order, but if you don’t have anything in place, you’ll need to get an initial determination made. For more information about how to get a custody order in place, click here.
For a lot of people, custody and visitation is something that has to be determined over and over again throughout the child’s life. If that’s you, that’s okay. In fact, the law was set up specifically to handle custody and visitation cases this way.
In a divorce, you reach an agreement about how your property will be divided, and that’s a “you snooze, you lose” kind of moment. You agree to what you agree to, and that’s it—there’s no going back later. With custody, on the other hand, it’s always modifiable. The theory there is that the most important thing is to reach a determination that is in the “best interests of the child”—and what’s in a child’s best interests could be constantly changing. Whether it’s because of the child’s changing needs, age wise or developmentally, or because things have changed for the child’s parents, because they’ve gotten new jobs or lost jobs, what might be in a child’s best interest in one year might have changed by the following year.
When can you petition the court to change or modify custody or visitation?
The court allows you petition for a change in custody or visitation when there has been a material change in circumstances. What constitutes a material change will be construed pretty broadly, but most of the time we see job changes, moving, new marriages, and things like that being used as material changes.
Of course, you can’t petition the court every other month. The general rule is that the court won’t re hear petitions unless 6 months to a year has passed since the last determination. Each court handles these timelines a little bit differently, but usually you won’t be able to get into court much faster than that.
Theoretically, you could petition the court to re-determine custody every 6 months to a year every single year until your child reaches the age of 19 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs first. (Though, obviously, I wouldn’t recommend that unless you absolutely had to; litigation is time consuming and expensive.)
So… If we’re having co parenting problems, all I can do is petition the court?
No. You don’t have to petition the court if things aren’t going well. You and your child’s father can also negotiate a new custody and visitation agreement between the two of you, with or without lawyers.
If there’s something about your current arrangement that’s no longer working, you may benefit from sitting down and talking about it. I know—that’s the problem, right?
Talking to him isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world, and you’re tired of being jerked around.
(After all, that’s the way it always feels, isn’t it? Because you want to do things the right way, it feels like he can jerk you around and handle things however he wants. It’s so frustrating!)
A lot of times, clients hire us to negotiate updated custody and visitation agreements for them—after all, having the heft of an attorney behind your proposed agreement can probably at least mean that he’ll at least respond to you. Then, you can decide whether it’s worth your while to move forward with the agreement, or whether you’ll have better luck litigating in court.
Will I win if I petition to modify?
We can’t ever guarantee a win. Each case is incredibly fact specific, and a lot is left up to the judge. By talking to an attorney one on one about your case and your unique concerns, we can do our best to give you an idea of your likelihood of succeeding in your particular case.
Keep in mind, like I mentioned before, that custody and visitation cases are determined based on the best interests of the child factors. If you haven’t seen them before, now is a good time:
1. The age and physical and mental condition of the child, giving due consideration to the child’s changing developmental needs;
2. The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;
3. The relationship existing between each parent and each child, giving due consideration to the positive involvement with the child’s life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual and physical needs of the child;
4. The needs of the child, giving due consideration to other important relationships of the child, including but not limited to siblings, peers and extended family members;
5. The role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;
6. The propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child;
7. The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child;
8. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience to express such a preference;
9. Any history of family abuse as that term is defined in § 16.1-228 or sexual abuse. If the court finds such a history, the court may disregard the factors in subdivision 6; and
10. Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.
The importance of these factors really can’t be understated. In a custody case, everything is based around these factors.
It’s worth getting up to date information about your case, especially if the situation has changed since the last time you and your child’s father determined custody and visitation. If things have been getting worse and worse and you’re having a more difficult time determining how custody and visitation will be handled, it’s worth your while to get the information you need to get the outcome you’re hoping for.
For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia custody attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.