When a couple divorces with minor children, the parenting plan forms an important part of the final divorce order. Parents may agree on a plan and submit to the court for approval, or litigate this issue before a judge, who will then come up with an arrangement he or she deem in the best interests of the child.

However, children grow and life changes happen. What may have been in the best interest of the child at the time of the divorce may no longer work so well. When this happens, you may need to seek a modification of the parenting plan.

Agreeing to make a change

The easiest way to modify a parenting plan is to come to an agreement with the other parent. Judges typically approve agreed-upon changes unless they have some serious reason to believe the changes would be bad for the child.

If your relationship with your ex is amicable enough for an agreement to be feasible, you may feel tempted to skip the formalities and just begin operating on a changed schedule. However, it is always better to have a written, court-approved agreement. Circumstances change; without proof of a new agreement, your ex may later allege you changed the schedule unilaterally, violating the existing court order.

Arguing your case in court

If an agreement is not on the table, you will need to take your proposed modification to court. There will typically be a hearing where both parents will argue their points and present any evidence in support. As with the initial parenting plan, the court will focus on whether the modifications would be in the best interest of the child.

The parent who wants the modifications will also need to show that circumstances have changed substantially since the court issued the original order. The change must be such that the parties and the judge could not have foreseen it when making the initial parenting plan.