Regardless of how good a parenting plan is, there are bound to be disputes over how vacation times are handled. This is particularly true during summer vacation periods. Children are out of school until fall and their schedules are completely upended. This leaves parents in the predicament of deciding how best to deal with vacation issues when juggling two different schedules which may conflict with each other.
Although working with a Certified San Diego Family Law Specialist can help you navigate this difficult issue, there are some things you should address before you seek legal counsel.
Review Current Parenting Plans
Keep in mind, your existing parenting plan is on file with the court. The court ordered both parents to abide by a schedule which the court believed was in the child’s best interest. Whenever possible, it is best to stick with this plan since there can be penalties associated with varying the plan.
While it may be acceptable for both parents to agree on a modification, it is also important to remember that until the court approves a different plan, either parent may object in court to the plan, even when there is nothing more than a verbal agreement between the two of them. You should never agree to a modified visitation plan which is not approved by the court.
Custody and Visitation Orders in California
California family laws typically allow parents to discuss and agree upon holiday and vacation times and will include these agreements in the final custody and visitation orders. When the parents cannot agree, however, the court will make these decisions and may issue a visitation schedule along with the divorce decree. These orders are typically done to protect the best interests of the child and may include language which specifically refers to holidays, summer vacations, and other school breaks. However, keep in mind, circumstances can change.
Some of the circumstances under which a court will review the current parenting plan include:
- Material changes to the circumstances of one or both parents
- The distance between the two households
- The wishes of the child (over a certain age)
Whenever possible, parents should ensure they are doing their best to adhere to the court orders to ensure they are not facing any legal challenges. Remember, either parent may petition the court to hold the other parent in contempt of court for violating a visitation order.
Parenting Time Modifications by Agreement
California family law statutes make it clear the court will always take the best interest of the child into consideration. Therefore, it is important to understand that even when there is an existing parenting plan in place, the parents may agree to modify the plan which was agreed to at the time of their divorce.
Parents remain in control over the visitation of their children. When both parents agree the current plan is not working for them, they are free to agree to a modification of the current terms and present those plans to the court. These changes may impact only summer vacation, or they may impact the broader parenting plan if warranted.
Remember, as long as the new plan takes the child’s best interests into consideration, the court is likely to approve a modification which is submitted by the parents. This does require the parents to reach a mutually agreeable solution to summer vacations and other changes to parenting time. The drafting of a plan may be accomplished with or without the assistance of a family law attorney. However, it is always best to have the modification reviewed by your attorney before submitting it to the court, since your attorney can advise you of any potential problems which the court may find with the modification.
When Modification Is Contested
Unfortunately, parents cannot always agree on issues pertaining to summer vacation, or to visitations in general. If the parents cannot agree on a modified plan for parenting in the summer, then a petition must be filed with the court to modify the plan. However, this is not a guarantee — to show that a modification is warranted, the petitioning parent may be required to demonstrate:
- There are circumstances which are substantially different than at the time the original parenting order was put in place
- The circumstances which have changed materially impact the child, or
- The circumstances have changed for one or both parents
- The wishes of the child have changed since the original order was put in place
The petition will be submitted to the court for a hearing. Before such a hearing is held, the judge may recommend the parents participate in a mediation session so that an agreement which is acceptable to both can be reached.
In the event the mediation between the parents fails, then the court will request both parents attend a court hearing to rule on the dispute. As with all other issues which impact a minor child, the court will always defer to what they feel is in the best interest of the child or children.
Seeking Legal Help for Modifications
When a parenting plan is no longer working for the parents, or the child, modification of plans is sometimes necessary. However, agreeing on what those modifications should be is often a challenge as both parents may have different ideas as to what is in the best interest of the child.
Remember that the California Family Court will carefully scrutinize California’s Family Code to determine whether modification is appropriate. Parents who file a modification petition without the proper reasoning could be required to pay all legal costs associated with the request.
When you and your spouse cannot agree on a summer parenting plan that is different from your existing plan, you can opt to participate in mediation or arbitration before filing a petition with the court as well, which may be a better alternative. In the event you cannot reach an agreement, then your family law attorney can help you file the required petition for modification with the court.
Contact a Family Lawyer Today
Parenting is never easy and when the parents are not living together, there are more complications. Children need both parents, and it is in their best interest to make sure that when the parents can find common ground, they should. However, we are also realistic and know this is not always the case. If you are facing a potential dispute over your current parenting plan and summer vacation, contact a California custody and visitation modification attorney at The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law by calling (619) 299-9780.