Joint Custody Agreements may have to be modified from time to time. This may be because the children are getting older and have different needs. It could also be that one or both of the parents’ schedules or residences have changed. Sometimes a change to the plan is necessary because a parent is not parenting responsibly.
Most Joint Custody Agreements anticipate the need for modification and build in a requirement that the parties must meet every year or two years to discuss changes. Many Agreements also require that the parties meet with a mediator or Court conciliator before proceeding to Court for a modification action.
Even if one’s Joint Custody Agreement does not include a mediation provision, it may be wise for parents to meet with a mediator to resolve disputes or potential disputes. A mediator is a neutral person who uses conflict resolution skills to help parties reach amicable agreements. Mediators can help parties address issues confidentially, quickly and inexpensively. As most parents’ primary focus is their children, they are not anxious to spend a lot of money or experience a lot of stress related to a Court action.
In some circumstances, mediation may be necessary because a Court action is not allowed or advisable. Actions to modify custody cannot be initiated within a year of a custody order, absent special circumstances. Even after a year, the Courts have strict standards of what one must prove to obtain a hearing. Actions to modify parental access cannot be initiated without a substantial and continuing change of circumstances. Further, for parental access modification actions, Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure 91(F)(1)(a) requires that the filing parent certify “whether the underlying parenting time or visitation order or agreement contains a provision requiring the parties to pursue mediation or other alternative dispute resolution process prior to requesting the court to modify or clarify the order or agreement…” Because the Court recognizes the benefits of mediation, it has the authority to require mediation prior to hearing issues of custody or parenting time, even if it is not required by a Parenting Plan. Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure 91(O).
Whether mediation is required or not, it is the sensible alternative to litigation.
Alona M. Gottfried is a mediator and attorney in Arizona. If you have questions about mediation, she can be reached at: 480-998-1500 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a general interest article only and is not intended to be legal advice. See a legal professional before making legal decisions.
Simmons & Gottfried, PLLC
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Scottsdale, AZ 85260