It’s back-to-school time. For parents, that means major changes in schedule and focus. Kids aren’t just starting school, they’re reengaging in extra-curricular activities and reconnecting with friends, too. Ideally, your parenting order makes clear what everyone’s responsibilities are during the school year.
In reality, there can be changes needed. Your experience over the summer may have highlighted difficulties that need to be overcome. Or, changes that occur with the school year may need to be reflected in your parenting order. There could be schedule changes. Your kids may have new expenses that you need to share with their other parent. There may be disagreements about how your kids plan to spend their time.
If your parenting order is no longer serving your children’s best interests, you and your children’s other parent may be able to agree to change the order. If you can, you should have your lawyer write up the changes and have the court approve them.
If you and your ex can’t agree on all of the changes that are needed, you may be able to petition for a change to that order. However, there are some rules and limitations on when you can ask to modify a parenting order.
The one-year rule
The first thing to know is that, absent special circumstances, you need to wait a year from the date your parenting order was issued before you can petition to change it. This is the general rule and it applies in most cases. However:
- You can petition for a modification six months after the date of your original order if your children’s other parent refuses to comply with the terms of the order.
- You can always petition for a modification if you can show the other parent may seriously endanger your children’s physical, mental, moral or emotional health, or when domestic violence, spousal abuse or child abuse has occurred since the order was issued.
In order to petition for a modification, you will need to show that the circumstances have substantially changed since your current parenting order was issued. Once you have demonstrated that to the court, you will need to propose a new parenting order and convince the court that it is in your children’s best interest.
Your children’s other parent can make a counter-proposal for the parenting order and argue for why their proposal would be in the children’s best interest. The judge will weigh these proposals and, in general, choose the one that is more persuasive. However, Arizona law states that a parent’s parenting time should not be restricted unless the children’s physical, mental, moral or emotional health is in danger from that parent.
In general, Arizona family courts are supposed to maximize each parent’s time with their children when approving parenting plans.
What should a proposed parenting plan include?
The most important part of your proposed parenting plan is that it should further your children’s best interests. There are also specific requirements for what a parenting plan must include:
- Whether you share legal decision-making authority, or one parent has sole decision-making authority (this should already be decided)
- A description of each parent’s rights and responsibilities in regard to the children’s personal care and for decisions in areas such as religion, healthcare and education
- A practical schedule of each parent’s parenting time, including holidays and school vacations
- A process for exchanging the kids, including a location and responsibility for transportation
- A procedure for proposing changes and resolving disputes
- A procedure for periodic review of the parenting order by the parents
- A procedure for how you will communicate with each other about the children, including methods and frequency
- A statement that each party has read, understands and will abide by Arizona’s sex-offender notification requirements
If you are interested in changing your parenting order, the first step is to talk to your attorney about what you want to change and why. Your attorney can then tell you if you need to wait six months or a year to petition the court and help you develop your petition.