For parents who are involved in joint or shared child custody arrangements, the court will provide them with a child custody schedule in addition to the final divorce decree. A custody schedule outlines all guidelines and requirements regarding time spent with the child, as well as each parent’s rights and responsibilities. These schedules are generally determined by the family law court handling the divorce, and are approved by the judge into an official court order. 

However, if the parents can come to a custody agreement on their own, and their agreement honors their child’s best interests, the court will generally accept and honor that schedule. Custody schedules may be the result of divorce/separation proceedings, or through a separate request.

Custody schedules are meant to provide guidelines and clarify any questions related to child custody arrangements. As such, these schedules generally contain:

  • The names and contact information of all parties involved in the custody arrangement, such as the child or children, and both parents or guardians;
  • Which parent has primary custody rights;
  • Detailed descriptions of the rights and specific time periods that each parent is allowed in terms of custody. A common custody schedule is an alternating custody arrangement, as in custody changes every other week or two weeks; and
  • Specific instructions as to whether or not custody or visitation for either parent must be supervised.

A custody schedule can often be thought of as a calendar that all involved parties can refer to. The purpose of a custody schedule is to  help finalize and solidfy the custody arrangement that was decreed by the court. It is to ensure that things are fair between the parents, that everyone follows the rules, and that the child’s best interests are considered at all times. Child custody schedules are crucial for the safety and wellbeing of the child, and to ensure that the parents involved are adhering to the law.

Are Custody Schedules Permanent, or Can They Be Changed?

Violating a child custody order or schedule is a serious matter as a schedule is legally binding. Once these terms are in place, the parents must follow the terms or risk consequences such as losing custody of the child. If you cannot maintain the current schedule, it can be modified under specific circumstances. It is better to request a modification than to take matters into your own hands and risk being held in contempt of court.

Any part of the schedule may be modified, as long as the changes are made in the best interests of the child. And, both parents must consent to the changes; or, it must be court ordered. A formal request for modification must be submitted to the court in order to have it enforced. Some of the common reasons why a modification may be justified include:

  • Changes in the child’s needs;
  • Changes in the availability of either parent;
  • Change in either parent’s lifestyle that may threaten or harm the child;
  • Change in circumstances that would significantly change or disrupt the child’s life stability, such as a parent losing their job or being diagnosed with a severe chronic illness that would impact their ability to properly care for their child as the current schedule dictates;
  • One of the parents is or will be relocating, rendering the current schedule unfeasible;
  • Changes in the financial or economic stability of either parent; or
  • Changes in state child custody laws, guidelines, or requirements.

Court issued child custody schedules can be subject to frequent change, as needed. Although the courts prefer to maintain visitation agreements once the child’s schedule is settled, if there is a good enough reason to modify the schedule, they will grant one. Again, all court decisions must be made with the child’s best interests in mind.

What Are the Legal Penalties for Violating a Custody Order?

As previously mentioned, custody schedules are legally binding and must be followed. Some examples of violations include:

  • Keeping the child with you for longer than is outlined in the custody schedule;
  • Failing to inform the other parent of the child’s whereabouts;
  • Taking the child on a long trip or out of the state without the other parent’s knowledge or permission;
  • Allowing an unauthorized person to care for the child; or
  • Denying the other parent their rightful custody or visitation rights.

Violating a custody order could lead to the following penalties:

  • Contempt orders;
  • Fines;
  • Loss or reduction of custody rights; or
  • Criminal consequences.

If the violating parent is the custodial parent, they may lose their custody rights or have them reduced. If the violating parent is the noncustodial parent, they could lose some or all of their visitation rights, and whatever custody rights they do have. A custody violation may result in criminal consequences under certain circumstances, such as when a parent has kept the child against their will, or has transported the child in a manner that is unauthorized.

Should I Hire an Attorney for Help with a Custody Schedule?

It is in your best interest to consult with a skilled and knowledgeable child custody lawyer if you are having issues with your current custody schedule. An experienced child custody attorney will be able to help you file for a modification, as well as represent you in court if necessary.