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DIVORCE 68: A change that substantially reduces the time a parent spends with a child could potentially cause a change in the established custodial environment.

When the parties divorced, plaintiff was given primary physical custody of HS, and the parties shared joint legal custody. Initially, there was no formal custody order, and the parties decided when defendant had parenting time by mutual agreement. Generally, defendant would exercise two nights of parenting time each week.

Parenting Time Motion

When HS reached school age, defendant filed a motion in the trial court seeking three weekends a month and week on, week off parenting time in the summer. The court ordered that defendant would have parenting time every other weekend from Friday night until Sunday night and the parties would split custody equally during the summer, and the court implemented an expanded holiday schedule as stipulated by the parties.

Defendant argues that the court’s parenting-time order modified the established custodial environment.

Established Custodial Environment

When resolving important decisions that affect the welfare of the child, the court must first consider whether the proposed change would modify the established custodial environment.

A custodial environment can be established in more than on home. A change in the established custodial environment occurs if parenting-time adjustments change whom the child naturally looks to for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort. A change that substantially reduces the time a parent spends with a child could potentially cause a change in the established custodial environment.

If the proposed change alters the established custodial environment, the party seeking the change must demonstrate that the change is in the child’s best interests. Prior to this custody order, defendant would generally have custody of HS for two nights a week, and HS would spend the rest of her time with plaintiff. That, for the most part, continues to be the dynamic. Defendant cites cases in which the parties initially had 50/50 custody, but defendant has never had parenting time that came close to the amount exercised by plaintiff.

The court’s factual findings were adequate to support its order.

Assistance With Custody

If you are going through a divorce, it is important to protect your custodial rights. If the divorce or separation process does not turn out like you thought it would, you may not have the custody or parenting time you deserve.

Seek the advice and guidance of an experienced family law and divorce attorney who will be by your side every step of the way.

Contact Aldrich Legal Services

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