Custody cases and being pro se (without a lawyer) just don’t mix. I know we lawyers are expensive, but how much is your child’s future worth?
Here is a classic mistake made by unrepresented parties when trying to modify timeshare (the more modern term for “custody” and/or “visitation”): asking for 50/50, split, or rotating timeshare. Here’s why:
Once timeshare is set, either by the judge as part of a divorce or paternity case or by the parties in a settlement agreement, timeshare is pretty much locked in. It is very difficult to change timeshare. But it can be done. The person wanting the change has to prove to the judge that there is an unexpected and substantial change in circumstance.
“Unexpected” means there was no way to know it when the judge made the decision or when the agreement was signed. “The kids are now in school” or “the kids want to be with me more” or “inflation has gone up” are bad reasons because they are all predictable. “Mom is running a meth lab in front of the kids” is a good reason, because it probably couldn’t have been predicted.
A “substantial” change is a really big change. It can’t be “Dad moved to a new house across town” or “Mom had three more kids.” These might be big life events, but to change timeshare, a judge has to see something huge, something like, “Mom’s new boyfriend is a child molester who attacked my child.”
So if something has to be that big and that bad for timeshare to change, why a person ever ask for timeshare to go to 50/50? I see people alleging, “Mom is now a prostitute, living on the streets with the kids, hooked on drugs, and the kids are flunking out of school, therefore I want the kids half the time.” Half?! And you want this disaster of a mother to have them the other half?!
Judges aren’t dumb. Everyone knows child support gets gutted as the amount of timeshare increases, and that’s exactly what they’re thinking when they see a petition like this. Another deadbeat doesn’t care about the kids and just wants to reduce child support. If something is serious enough for timeshare to change, that is, for the old agreement or judgment to be completely broken, it’s probably serious enough that the other parent should be very restricted in seeing the kids.
Bottom line: be careful in seeking modification of timeshare, but if you do seek modification, speak to lawyers like us first, and never ask for 50/50, rotating timeshare, or “split custody.”