The courts typically favor joint or equal parenting time with the children where the children’s time is split fairly evenly with each parent. This is not always possible if a parent lives a far distance from the other parent’s residence or the child’s school, a party’s work schedule cannot accommodate equal parenting time, or there are other issues affecting this type of arrangement. In extreme circumstances, some parenting plans may give one parent sole parenting time. Typically though, parenting time is divided on a percentage basis. In any case, the parents (or the courts if the parents are unable to agree) are required to create a schedule and consider the child’s summer breaks, vacation time, extra-curricular and community activities, holidays, etc.
When creating a time-sharing schedule, parents should be properly prepared. For example, obtain a copy of the child’s school calendar that will include breaks and vacation times. Review the various holidays and those that apply to your child such as Halloween, religious holidays and birthdays as you will have to decide which parent the child will be with during these events.
The following are some considerations to follow when creating your parenting plan:
1. Alternating weekends. Many parents use an alternating weekends plan, but this may result in a parent having the child on consecutive weekends or more, if a holiday or event occurs. If so, you should arrange for an exchange of a following weekend.
2. Weekday and weekend schedules. State that a parent will have the child on weekdays between certain times or on specific weekdays and times. You may alternate weekends starting on a certain date and be sure to include the pickup and drop off times.
3. Breaks. Alternate the years with one parent having the child on even numbered years or they can be split up evenly. For holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year’s, these can be alternated or worked out and noted on the parenting plan. The same is true of the summer break. These times can be either divided up on a yearly basis or split so that each parent has an equal time with the child during these breaks. Some parents find that splitting the larger breaks such as Winter Break and Spring Break is best for their children.
4. Overnights. When determining child support, the court is only concerned with the amount of overnights each parent has. In order to simplify, it is encouraged to designate how many overnights each parent has (or a percentage of overnights).
5. Transportation. Indicate which parent will pick up the child and who will drop the child off. When the parties reside a greater distance from one another, oftentimes parents agree to meet halfway for all exchanges of the children. For parents that reside in close proximity, an arrangement where the parent beginning their parenting time picks up the child from the other parent’s residence is often easiest.
6. The Exchange. Indicate where the exchange is to be made, either at a parent’s residence or other location. Most parenting plans allow most exchanges to occur when the child is released from school or camp. This is usually in the child’s best interest because it may avoid any potential conflict between the parents.
7. Foreign and Out-of-State Travel. If a parent wishes to travel with the child outside the state or in a foreign country, the other parent must be notified well in advance. The traveling parent is to provide a written itinerary of the travel plans along with phone numbers and/or locations where the other parent may contact the child. If traveling out of the U.S., the traveling parent needs to provide some kind of security for the return of the child.
8. School designation. Indicate which parent’s residence is to be used for school designation purposes.
9. Communication. This is vitally important in any parenting plan. The parents need to maintain contact by phone, email, in person or even mail. The child is not to be used as a conduit. The child is permitted contact with the other parent by phone, email, text or other electronic means, which includes video cams (Skype, FaceTime, or Yahoo Messaging), video conferencing or other technology. The communications cannot be monitored nor interrupted by the other parent. Indicate the times when the child is permitted contact with the other parent, which may be at any time.
10. Changes of Modifications. You can make temporary changes on an informal basis but for permanent and/or substantial ones, you may need court intervention if the parents do not agree. Consider mediation, however, or other dispute resolution methods as you can incur considerable expenses in a court filing.
If you cannot work out an agreeable visitation plan, consider talking to an experienced Florida family law attorney who can advise and negotiate a suitable plan for you or represent you at a mediation.