If you and your co-parent are already divorced, any changes that you agree to make to your court orders should be memorialized in writing. This is not a difficult process and can be done with little cost if you have an agreement with the other parent. The short answer is YES!
This also applies to parentage/paternity situations where there was no divorce, but you have child custody and parenting time orders in place.
After parents are separated and a final Judgment is entered many people think that is the end of the process. However, depending on what the circumstances were at the time of the Judgment, things can change over time. For example, if you separated from your co-parent when your children were young and not yet in school you may not have taken into consideration a school schedule. Now your children may be older, and you need to put together a schedule taking into consideration school and extra-curricular activities.
Changes to parenting time may be by mutual agreement. Our firm always encourage co-parents to get along and reach agreements together. They know their children’s needs better than anyone else. Sometimes these changes just naturally happen over time. Perhaps a parent who normally picked up the children after school has a new job and can no longer do the pick-ups. The other parent may be able to step in and do the pick-up from school. This would likely change parenting time from what was ordered in the Judgment.
So when a change occurs what do you do? The best thing is to always get it in writing. You may think you understand what the agreement is, but once you put it in writing sometimes the other parent may request some changes to clarify things. This written agreement should be at least be in the form of an email. [Just a quick side note, we always encourage people to use personal emails – not work emails – for privacy reasons.] In the email spell out what you think the agreement is. If the other parent agrees, ask them to please acknowledge in writing back. This at least memorializes what was agreed upon at the time. Of course, keep the email in a safe place!
The best way to really make sure that any agreement is enforceable is to have a legal “Stipulation” for modification written up and then signed by the parents. That Stipulation will then be submitted to the Court for a judge’s signature – making it a legal Order of the Court. That document is then an enforceable Order, and the Court is aware there was a change. Some things, like changes to support orders, require a Stipulation signed by the Court in order to be valid.
It is very common for co-parents to change their parenting time schedule with the kids, but they do not memorialize it or get a new Order (by Stipulation). When that happens then the parents may subsequently have a disagreement about something and end up going to court. At that time the court will inquire what has been going on, and what has been the schedule. If both parties are claiming different things, and there is no written agreement to changing the schedule from the Judgment, judges may fall back to the only written enforceable document they have — the original Judgment. This can be frustrating to parents who believe they have been acting in their child’s best interest. Not having an agreement in writing may jeopardize a parent’s position in court. It is always best to have a Stipulation written and signed by the court if you are making changes to parenting time after a Judgment.
Some may think it is simple and just want a document preparation service to write it up, or even try to write it themselves. In rare cases that may be just fine, but with other cases there may be legal requirements that need to be addressed that an attorney can easily see and point out to the parties. It’s almost always best that you have legal advice from a lawyer. Make sure it’s done right! If any of these circumstances apply to you, we highly suggest that you consult with a qualified attorney.