Changing child custody to fit holiday schedules

Photo of attorney Melinda L. Singer

One of the biggest problems around the holidays for divorced parents is custody agreements. Even if grandma is flying in for the first time in years or if dad is making his famous holiday chili, if your custody agreement says your little one will be with their other parent on the day of your family get together, then that’s how it will be. Or is it?

Modifying your child custody agreement is possible in New Jersey. Depending on what changes you and the other parent choose to make, it could mean bringing your child to share in the holiday festivities. We will get into the ways custody can be modified, but let’s start by saying that you should not expect an informal agreement between you and your ex to do the job.

How a parent should not modify child custody

As far as the law is concerned, your current custody agreement is the only thing that matters. This means that no matter how much you and your ex agree on a custody change in conversation, over texting or on Snapchat, if they suddenly decide to go back on your new agreement, in the eyes of the law they will be right.

The only way to be sure is to have a formal modification in writing signed by a judge. Which does not have to be as difficult as it might sound.

How a parent should modify custody

In New Jersey the most straightforward way to change your child custody agreement is to work out the changes you want with the other parent, write it out as a new consent order and file it with the court. Drafting a new consent order can be complicated, which is why it is best to consult with a professional to ensure everything is legitimate. This does not usually take long and is relatively inexpensive.

The wrinkle here is that it requires both you and your ex to amicably agree on a new plan; something not every divorced couple can do.

If you expect a disagreement, it is a good idea to enlist the help of a mediator. A mediator is a neutral third party who will be present when you and your ex negotiate the changes in your custody plan. It is their job to facilitate an outcome you and your ex can both agree on. If you come to an understanding, the mediator will submit your new plan to the court.

If you and your ex are still unable to come to an agreement, you will need to use a court procedure. This means filing a motion for modification with the court that finalized your divorce and going to potentially multiple hearings. In most cases this will end with the judge ruling on the matter.

For most people, the court procedure option is the most stressful, time consuming and expensive route. If you are able, the best course of action is most likely trying to rationally come to an agreement with your ex. It will save time, stress and money and give everyone more time to enjoy the holiday season.

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