Betty and Bob have a one-year-old child together. They decide it is time to get a divorce. Bob tells her he will take care of all of the paperwork, and she does not need to do anything. He tells her that neither party will have to pay child support and they will get to spend equal time with their daughter. Betty lets Bob take care of everything.

It is now ten years later. For the last ten years neither Betty nor Bob paid child support. Both of them saw their daughter equally every week. Betty is seeing someone and Bob recently got remarried. Everything seems to be perfectly fine and Betty and Bob are very amicable with each other until one day.

Betty had taken their daughter to get her ears pierced without talking to Bob. Bob became extremely upset and got into a huge argument with Betty. Bob then pulls out their divorce decree, which Betty never saw. Bob shows Betty that the divorce decree gives him sole legal decision-making and very limited parenting time for Betty.

Betty is shocked. She never saw this document until now. She was always under the impression that the parties shared legal decision-making and had equal parenting time. Bob immediately tells Betty he is implementing the original plans from the divorce decree.

Betty now sees her daughter only every other weekend. She also does not have any rights to make decisions for her daughter’s schooling or health.   Betty is distraught. Her daughter is even more upset and confused. She rarely gets to see her mom now. What can Betty do in this situation? Does Betty have any rights?

Yes. There are a number of things Betty can do. It is absolutely not ok for Bob to take their daughter from Betty after they had been exercising equal parenting time for over a decade. Betty needs to immediately file a Petition to Modify Parenting Time and Legal Decision Making. This document will modify the parenting plan and legal decision making order that is in their divorce decree.

In Betty’s Petition to Modify, she will need to show that there has been a change since the parties last parenting plan and legal decision making order was put in place (the divorce decree). This will be very easy for Betty to show. All Betty needs to show is that she and Bob have been sharing equal parenting time and joint legal decision making for the last ten years.

Most likely, Bob will fight this. Bob will likely try and come up with excuses why Betty should not have equal parenting time or joint legal decision-making. Bob may bring up the parent’s most recent argument regarding the ear piercing. Bob may try and make an argument that Betty has not acted in their daughter’s best interest. It is possible Bob may bring up things from when the parents were married as well.

Bob’s arguments will probably not have much strength. If Betty is able to show the court evidence that their daughter has been with her equal time, or that Betty does not have any issues to be a fit parent, the judge will likely favor Betty’s side. Now keep in mind that every case is different and there is no guarantee that the judge will side with Betty. Regardless, however, the judge will always look to the best interests of the child. If the judge believes that it is in the child’s best interests to be with both Betty and Bob equal time, then Betty will likely succeed.