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What does it mean to modify a custody agreement?

A custody agreement sets a child visitation schedule for each parent. This is sometimes known as “possession” or “custody” of the child. While custody and visitation laws vary from state to state, most states use child custody agreements to establish the custody and visitation rights of each parent.

For example, you might have your child for most of the week during the school year, while the other parent has visitation rights for one weeknight and on certain weekends. This schedule may need to change, however, when your child is out of school for the summer. 

A custody agreement is part of a binding court order set by a judge. Modification means changing its terms. A parent usually has to file a motion in court to modify the current custody order, and a judge must approve a new order making the modification official.

Most states do not allow parents to file a motion to modify unless there has been a substantial change in the circumstances of their child or one of the parents. A parent cannot file a motion to modify child custody just because they do not like the current agreement. Altering a child’s custody plan for the summer might not amount to a substantial enough change in circumstances. That said, many custody agreements give parents flexibility to manage their own visitation arrangements, and many include a comprehensive Parenting Plan that may help parents overcome disagreements about summer visitation schedules.

Can a custody agreement be modified without going to court?

Most of the terms of a custody agreement cannot be modified without a judge’s signature. This includes provisions related to parental rights and responsibilities, such as making medical decisions for a child and the obligation to pay child support. Temporary changes to the day-to-day details of visitation for the summer, however, might not need a judge’s approval.

Many custody agreements state that set custody and visitation schedules only apply when parents cannot agree on their own terms. As long as the parents can agree on a schedule, they can follow almost any schedule they want. It might be a good idea for a parent to document their agreement in a Child Visitation Letter.

Can informal custody arrangements be made for vacations?

A common reason a parent might want to modify a custody agreement for the summer is because of vacation plans that do not fit into the usual schedule. Suppose one parent would normally have 30 days of visitation during the summer, but the parent wants to take the child on a trip in excess of that timeframe. As discussed above, many custody agreements allow parents to agree to a different visitation schedule. No court involvement is necessary in those circumstances.

The situation could get complicated if the trip goes outside of the court’s jurisdiction, such as to another state or country, or if the other parent does not agree to the vacation or schedule.

What if the other parent will not agree to vacation plans?

When the other parent does not agree to your vacation plans, your options depend on several factors, including your state and the vacation destination. It might be possible, in some states, to ask the court to allow an exception to the usual visitation schedule, without filing a motion to modify. You may also consider enlisting the help of an attorney or mediator.

How can I prevent disagreements involving custody and summer vacation?

Communication is the most important thing that can help parents avoid disagreements over custody and visitation. One effective strategy to minimize disagreement over a summer vacation is to notify the other parent about your plans as far in advance as possible and with as much specificity as possible.

Custody agreements, visitation schedules, and parenting plans are not set in stone. It is possible to make a different schedule for the summer, especially if the other parent agrees. If you have questions about child custody, visitation, and summer vacation, contact a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney today to discuss your rights and options.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.


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