modify visitation rightsSome divorces are amicable, many are not. Either way, ill feelings usually fade over time and both parties go about their lives, leaving what’s in the past in the past. And why not? If a final divorce decree has been entered, there’s usually no reason for the former spouses to deal with each other. No reason, that is, unless there are children of the marriage.

If that’s the case, issues often arise over custody and visitation rights, issues that all-too-frequently turn into disputes. When that happens, what had previously been a civil dynamic between the parents can rapidly deteriorate. This, of course, has the additional and unfortunate effect of harming the children involved. If you want or need to modify visitation rights (also known in New Jersey as parenting time), you may want to hire a qualified visitation rights attorney.

Why do I need an attorney?

Is it possible for you to modify visitation rights without the assistance of a lawyer? Of course. Whether that’s easy to do, however, is another matter altogether. Modification of visitation rights is subject to very specific legal requirements and can result in a very negative outcome for all involved if not handled properly.

The procedures to modify visitation rights set out by New Jersey state law (each state regulates divorce and custody matters independently of what others do) are fairly straightforward. Although the two are often used interchangeably, it’s important to remember that visitation differs from custody. Not until custodial status is established can visitation rights be addressed. Both are, however, subject to modification by the court upon motion by one party or agreement by both. However, a lawyer should be used in whether you want to modify visitation rights or custody of one or more of the children of the marriage.

As mentioned, there are very specific legal requirements which must be met in order to modify visitation rights. The specifics of your situation might alter the process somewhat. That said, a parent failing to comply with the visitation schedule is a primary reason behind the other parent seeking to modify visitation rights. Another is that the parents agree to a change in the schedule. A third reason? The custodial parent (the one with whom the child lives most of the time) wants to reduce, if not eliminate, the parenting time of the other parent. Conversely, the non-custodial person may seek additional visitation time.

Even if the visitation schedule is originally agreed to by both parents, it ultimately requires a court order. So does changing it. The necessary steps are clearly defined and there’s little room for error. Given the stakes, you can’t afford to gamble that you can handle a case to modify visitation rights on your own. A better bet would be to hire an experienced family law (also known as divorce) attorney. He or she will know how to best navigate the process taking into account the particulars of your case.

How can I modify visitation rights?

The following applies to all visitation modification matters in New Jersey:

  • To modify an existing visitation order, you are usually required to show to the satisfaction of the court that “a substantial change in circumstances” exists.
  • A parent seeking to change an existing visitation order when the other parent objects must file a motion asking the court to modify it. The motion should tell the court exactly what it is being requested to do.
  • A court date must be set. This is when the court hears the motion in order to grant or deny it.
  • In order to ensure the accuracy of the court records, a Confidential Litigant Information Sheet must be completed and submitted to the court.
  • Completion of the Certification. This form is where you make your case, so to speak, clearly explaining to the court why it should grant the relief asked for in your Notice of Motion.
  • Include a Proposed Order, the form the judge will sign if the Notice of Motion is granted.
  • In order to prove to the court that you have served all parties to the action, a Certification of Filing and Service must be filed. This informs the court:
    • That the Notice of Motion and all documents attached thereto have been delivered by hand or via regular and certified mail on the other party within the time required by the rules of the court; or
    • That the Notice of Motion and all documents attached thereto have been delivered by hand or via regular and certified mail on the other party’s current lawyer within the time required by the rules of the court; and
    • Exactly how the Notice of Motion and attached documents were provided to the other party or the other party’s lawyer.
  • Complete the Notice to Litigants which advises the other party how and by when to respond to your Motion. Failure to take this step will likely result in your motion being dismissed.
  • Complete the Case Information Statement (CIS). Include a blank copy with the packet served on the other party as he or she will be required to complete one as well.
  • Complete a Letter to the Clerk which serves as the first page or covering sheet of the packet that makes up your Notice of Motion.
  • Submit the proper filing fee.

There are, in addition to those listed above, other steps that may be required or become necessary to modify visitation rights. A qualified family law attorney can assess your situation and advise exactly what you will need to do. You might be able to figure it all out on your own. Considering that it involves the well-being of your children, should you?