In an unreported decision of the Appellate Division on April 17, 2008 in the case of Swicinski v. Maul, the Court held that passage of time alone was a sufficient change of circumstance to warrant a modification of the father’s parenting time.
In this case, the parties were never married. In 2003, when the child was six weeks old, the Court entered an Order granting the parties joint legal custody, designating the mother as primary residential custodian and granting the father parenting time every Sunday between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., and between 6:00 p.m. every Monday through 6:00 p.m. the next day. Because that schedule was cumbersome and involved four round-trips in each three-day period, the parties voluntarily modified that schedule so that father’s parenting time would begin on Sunday morning and conclude on Monday at 6:00 p.m.
In 2007, the father sought additional parenting time and it was opposed by the mother. The trial court granted the additional time and the Appellate Division affirmed.
The trial court noted and the Appellate Division agreed that parenting time for an infant should be structured differently than parenting time with a 4-year old and that that alone was a change of circumstancee. The father also had other changes in his life – a new wife, a new home and greater stability.
The trial court also noted that custody and parenting time issues are always subject to review. That said, in practce, typically, a change of circumstances is necesseary to obtain a modification.
What should be taken from this case is that the needs of a child differ depending on their ages. Parenting time that may be appropriate for an infant or toddler, is not necessarily appropriate for an older child. As such, just because parenting time is settled does not mean that it can never change with time. This case confirms a common sense argument many have been making for some time.
For a link to the case, click here.