Can a permanent Parenting Plan be changed?

Tennessee requires divorcing parents to draft parenting plans and have them approved before a divorce can ever be granted. They are designed to give the divorced parents an agreed upon plan to parent successfully post-divorce and make children more comfortable. But in some cases the arrangements specified in the Parenting Plan do not work out and the parents require modifications. Tennessee parents should know the standards for changing the parenting schedule in a Parenting Plan and changing the custody designation entirely.

Changing the parenting schedule

Making a change to the residential parenting requires a court order. In order to modify the parenting schedule described in the permanent parenting plan approved at the time of divorce, a parent must demonstrate that there is "a material change in circumstances" which mandates the revision. Some examples of changes in circumstances that would justify modifying the residential parenting schedule include:

  • Changes in the child's needs over time, including age-related changes
  • Changes to a parent's work schedule or living conditions that significantly impact his or her parenting abilities
  • A parent's failure to follow the Parenting Plan
  • Any other material change

Changing custody

The requirements for modifying a parenting schedule are relatively easy to meet compared to changing what is generally called a custody designation in a parenting plan. The law states that a parent must show "a material change in circumstance," much like a parent trying to modify a parenting schedule, making the Parenting Plan no longer in the child's best interest. Courts have interpreted the language in the law to mean that a parent needs to demonstrate a more serious change in circumstances than necessary to modify the parenting schedule. First, the court will consider whether the change in circumstances truly happened after the Order for the Parenting Plan was entered, whether the parents could have reasonably foreseen the change and whether the change seriously affects the child's best interest.

If a parent passes the initial hurdle that there has been a material change in circumstances, the court will reexamine the other specifics required by law to decide whether a custody change is in the best interests of the child, the court will examine, among other things:

  • The physical and emotional needs of the child
  • The relationship each parent has with the child
  • Each parent's capability to care for the child
  • Each parent's mental, physical and emotional health
  • Each parent's work schedule
  • The willingness of each parent to encourage a close relationship between the child and other parent
Child custody battles can become very emotional, and the amount of detail and outside experts involved can become staggering. The term 'heated battle' becomes an understatement. Post divorce parents in this sort of situation need to have the assistance of an experienced attorney.

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