Before Tennessee courts grant a divorce, the law requires parents to draft a parenting plan. Parents must agree on and approve a parenting plan in Tennessee and then legally abide by its parameters. Sometimes though, circumstances change. Even the best-laid plans can be upended. In some cases, a dispute arises, or an arrangement’s original scope changes. In those cases, a modified parenting plan may be required.
If you need to modify a parenting plan or even want to explore the option, the experienced family law legal team at Batson Nolan PLC can walk you through the process. We are a full-service law firm with offices located in downtown Clarksville, Tennessee, and downtown Springfield, Tennessee. Since 1868, we’ve prided ourselves on providing exemplary legal representation. We fully understand that every legal situation is unique and we can assure you that your parenting plan will have our full attention.
Reasons to Modify Parenting Plan
To modify a provision incorporated in a permanent parenting plan already approved by a court, a parent must establish that a material change has arisen in their circumstances warranting a revision. Some reasons a parent might want to modify a parenting plan include:
- One parent’s failure to follow the current plan as laid out;
- Changes in the child’s needs, including age-related changes;
- Changes to a parent’s work schedule that significantly impact parenting;
- Changes to a parent’s living conditions that significantly impact parenting;
- If physical or emotional abuse is occurring; and
- If a parent is engaging in illegal activities or substance abuse.
Once you’ve established the reasons for modifying a parenting plan, other things to consider are:
- Whether you materially need to change the provision defining which parent is considered the primary residential parent or instead adjust parenting time;
- Whether it’s better to file a petition for modification or seek mediation first;
- Whether the proposed change of circumstances is legally adequate to meet the court’s requirements;
- Whether a court’s modification order will impact child support and, if so, whether that impact could potentially influence the court’s decision or cause the court to view money as a primary motivator;
- What the child’s wishes are; and
- Whether a modified order will affect the child’s grades, health, or emotional health.
Once a parent determines the reason to modify the plan, the procedures for modifying parenting plans are somewhat like establishing the preliminary parenting order. The first step is for the parent to submit a petition to modify to the court. The petition will contain the parent’s proposed modifications. If both parties agree to the modification, they can submit a modification agreement outlining a new parenting plan for the court to ratify and approve.
Procedures for Modifying Parenting Plans
Generally, two rules apply to every request for a parenting plan modification in Tennessee. First, modifications must be predicated on a material change in the parent’s or child’s circumstances. Second, if a court agrees that a material change has occurred, the court must find that modifying the parenting plan serves the child’s best interests. Meeting this requirement assures the court that the parents have their child’s best interests at heart and are not modifying an agreement merely because it’s inconvenient.
In evaluating whether a change of circumstances has occurred, the court will consider whether the alleged changes truly happened after the court established the initial Order for Parenting Plan. The court will also examine whether the parents could have reasonably foreseen the change.
Things the court may look at when determining the best interest of a child may include:
- The child’s physical and emotional needs;
- Each parent’s capacity to care for the child;
- Each parent’s work schedule;
- Each parent’s mental, physical, and emotional health;
- Each parent’s relationship with the child; and
- A parent’s willingness to foster meaningful connections between the child and the other parent.
When a parent seeks to modify parenting time vs. the primary residential parent, a court will take a more comprehensive approach, with an eye to any changes since the initial order and their reasons, before approving the request for modification. Proposed changes that are logistic in nature and unlikely to impact the child’s wellbeing—e.g., minor scheduling changes or transportation arrangements—may be decided more pragmatically.
What If Parents Disagree on How to Modify a Parenting Plan?
When parents disagree on a proposed new parenting plan, they can attend mediation. A court may also require parents to attend mediation. Sometimes, discussing parenting grievances through a mediator resolves the matter. It may also lead parents to conclude that they no longer need a parenting modification order.
However, exceptional circumstances may cause a court to forgo mediation. If a current plan places a child in harm’s way—for example, one parent engages in substance abuse or abuses a child—the court may provide a temporary injunction or other special relief without requiring mediation. This can occur regardless of whether both parents agree to the order.
Keep in mind that informal agreements are not legally enforceable. If you reach an agreement in mediation, you will need to submit it to the court for approval. Only a Tennessee court can legally modify and enforce a parenting plan.
How Do I Start The Modification Process?
Every parenting situation is different. Regardless of your circumstances, modifying a parenting order requires a plan adapted to your objective. Because Tennessee law does not clearly define what a court may consider a “change of circumstances,” it’s helpful to retain an experienced family legal matters lawyer who knows Tennessee law. A skilled family legal issues attorney can work to make sure the court protects your child’s best interests. At Batson Nolan PLC, we prioritize collaboration and open, honest communication with our clients. Let us put our years of knowledge and skills to good use for you. Contact us online.