There are many things that can cause a custody agreement to be broken. Sometimes, it’s a natural progression from changing circumstances that calls for a change in the agreement to be necessary. And sometimes, unfortunately, it’s done with malicious intent. If your ex-spouse is not properly following the guidelines set out in your existing parenting plan, there may be a few options available for you to address these issues. Working with a skilled family law attorney is important to determining the right course of action for your specific case.
When can a custody agreement be modified?
There are a number of things that can occur which can cause a change to your existing parenting plan to be necessary. For example, as children get older and enter school, change grades, begin playing sports, etc, it may not be feasible to continue to follow the existing time sharing schedule or parenting plan. Your parenting plan may state that your former spouse’s time is to begin at 3:45 P.M. when your child gets out of school, but a change in the school schedule can make this impossible. If you and your former spouse are unable to reach an agreement as to how the time sharing schedule should change with the school schedule change, it may be necessary to seek a modification to teh original order. While this is simply one example, there are many things that could warrant such a change. The key concept to consider when determining whether a modification may be justified is determining “what changed” and “was the change reasonably forseeable”. Having a skilled family law attorney on your side can help you determine when circumstances calling for a modification exist and help you get those issues heard in court.
What are your options if your ex-spouse stops paying child support?
If your ex stops paying child support all together, or if they are not paying the agreed amount at the right time, you must continue to follow the rest of the parenting plan and time sharing agreement. However, you do have the option of seeking contempt of court against your former spouse for failure to pay. In many cases, the state’s disbursement unit is responsible for administering the child support order and monitoring it for compliance. When this is the case, the state may automatically pursue action for contempt of court. However, the state can be slow to act, so having a family law attorney on your side can help you get back to court to be heard about your child support agreement sooner.
What are your options if your ex-spouse is maliciously disobeying the orders in the parenting plan agreement?
Unfortunately, there are times when one party chooses to maliciously disobey the orders in the existing parenting plan or time-sharing agreement. In these instances, your former spouse may be in contempt of court, but it does not give you the right to disobey any portion of the parenting plan or time-sharing agreement yourself. Common examples of actions which maliciously disregard the order of the court include:
Slandering or bad mouthing a child’s parent
Anytime a divorce happens it’s usually going to come with some very strong feelings between the divorced spouses. Unfortunately, the couples’ children are often left in the middle. Children are extremely sensitive to comments and suggestions made by those they love and trust, and even the smallest comment made lightly in the presence of a child can have damaging effects on the child’s preception of their other parent and can impact exchanges and time-sharing with that other parent. If comments are made frequently in the presence of the child, it may also have a lasting impact on how the child preceives their own self image. As difficult as it can be to do at times, it is extremely important that both parents never make negative or derogatory statements or claims about the other parent in front of their children, even if the comments are not directed at the child.
Misuse of personal property and disregard for each party’s purchases
In most cases involving a parenting plan and time-sharing agreement, it is common for the child to split their time between each of their parents’ homes. Each of the child’s parents are likely to purchase belongings such as clothes and toys for the child to use at their own home, but challenges can arise when the child wants to bring their personal property with them from one parent’s house to the other. If your child is bringing property from your former spouses home with them to your home, such as returning in clothes purchased by the other parent or bringing a new toy with them to your home, it is important that you remember this is personal property that belongs to your child and that you respect it the same way you would if you had been the one to purchase it. Acting carelessly with your child’s personal property, failing to return it to the other parent’s home, or purposefully damaging or disposing of the property is all unacceptable behavior and could be a reason to seek modification if the behavior is consistently a problem.
Parental alienation is a serious form of psychological abuse in which one parent manipulates the emotions and beliefs of the child negatively against the child’s other parent. Parental alienation manifests as the unwarranted fear, hostility, or disrespect from the child towards their other parent. Parental alienation is usually a combination of multiple behaviors that may seem minor but when combined have major consequences. For example, one parent may consistently ignore regularly scheduled calls between the child and their other parent, schedule extra-curricular activities during the time the child is supposed to be with their other parent, intentionally withhold the child from their other parent during the time-sharing that parent is scheduled to be with the child, etc. Interfering with the relationship between your child and their other parent is a serious act the court does not look upon lightly. If you beliieve you are the victim of parental alienation, it is important that you have a highly skilled family law attorney working with you who is experienced in handling alienation cases as these cases can be difficult to prove in court.
Mistreatment or abuse
Anytime mistreatment or abuse is suspected it’s advised to get Child Protective Services involved in the matter, but keep in mind it should be a legitimate concern of abuse or neglect. Unfortunately, there are many cases of false accusations of child abuse or neglect made during divorce and child custody disagreements, and if the allegations are found to have been false and made maliciously then such allegations could actually hurt the accusatory parent in court. Common signs that may indicate abusive behavior or neglect going on between a child and their caregiver include a child consistently returning from visitations with marks, bruises, burns, or appears malnourished, with no logical explanation as to why. Signs to look out for that are not so apparent are your child’s behaviors, if your child is usually happy, talkative, energetic, and outgoing and they become subtle, quiet, scared, and displays unusual behavior for their usual persona, then it may need more investigating. If you are going to speak with your child about the matter, it is important to have a neutral third party present who can be a witness to the discussion you have with your child about the matter.
If your former spouse is not properly following your current parenting plan or time-sharing agreement, or if you are interested in seeking a modification of your existing parenting plan or time-sharing agreement, you need the compassionate and experienced family law attorney, Michael C. McGinn, P.A. Contact us today for your FREE initial consultation. Mr. McGinn has a wealth of experience handling many Florida family law cases and is prepared to protect and maximize your legal rights and interests. Call us at 813-374-0353. Mr. McGinn is licensed in all Florida courts; he frequently handles cases in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Pasco, and Polk Counties, and has occasionally handled cases outside of the immediate Tampa Bay Area as well.