Few issues are more wrenching in a divorce than those concerning child custody and time-share arrangements. Divorcing parents may want joint physical custody or primary physical custody. This all depends on if an agreement can be made over summer schedules, school breaks, weekdays and weekends, pickups, and other logistical arrangements. To help avoid uncertainty and chaos in some instances, the Florida courts require the parents to create a parenting plan to resolve these issues.
In any divorce, it is to the benefit of all parties to work out their differences short of litigation. This minimizes legal fees and the emotional toll on everyone involved. Unfortunately, not all parents are cooperative enough to compromise. In such cases, the court will require the parents to work with a parenting coordinator (who does charge an hourly fee) to work out a plan or even appoint an expert to provide a recommendation to the court as to a parenting plan. If the parents are still unable to decide as to a parenting plan, ultimately the court will decide.
What is a Parenting Plan?
- A parenting plan is simply the child custody arrangement that is to be followed. It may contain the following provisions.
- How the parents are to share responsibility for the daily needs and raising of the children.
- Establishing a time-sharing schedule to determine the amount of time each parent will spend with the child.
- Which address is to be used for school district purposes?
- Who will be transporting the children to school, picking them up, and taking them to community or after-school activities?
- Which parent includes the children on his or her health insurance?
- How future activities will be handled such as graduation, holidays and birthday parties, and how transportation costs will be paid.
- Stipulations on whether or not both parents will be attending certain events.
- Provisions for mediation if the parents cannot agree in any event.
- What type and how often the parents will have communication with the children (telephone/Skype/FaceTime/etc.) and who will be financially responsible for such services.
- How the parents will decide on, and pay for, extra-curricular activities for the children.
What if the Parents Cannot Draft a Parenting Plan?
Should you and your spouse submit a plan that the court disapproves or cannot agree on, then the court will draft one for you, using the standard of what is in the best interest of the child. Some of the factors the Florida courts will use to determine a plan for you, whether you feel it is reasonable or not, include:
- Each parent’s mental and physical health.
- Their capacity to provide and maintain a close relationship with the child, to adhere to the time sharing plan, and to be amenable to changes.
- What the parental responsibilities of each will be, and if any of the child care is to be delegated to a third party.
- If the child has been with one of the parents in a stable and nurturing environment, and if it can be maintained
- Transportation issues. Especially if one parent lives a considerable distance from the other, or is relocating for employment, or other reasonable purposes.
- If a parent can establish a suitable routine of school, activities, homework, meals, and sleep.
- The child’s connection to and involvement in the community
- A parent’s willingness and demonstrated capacity to communicate with the other parent, to keep the other parent informed on the child’s current welfare, and to reach a consensus on major issues affecting the children.
- Whether the child can be in an environment free of alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual and verbal abuse, and neglect.
- If a parent was untruthful in not disclosing or fabricating allegations of misconduct, or evidence of abuse or violence.
- How the parents took on the responsibility of child care before litigation.
- How involved the parents were in the child’s after-school or community activities.
- Whether the parents have shielded the children from aspects of the litigation and have refrained from disparaging the other parent in their presence.
- The preference of the child if the court feels the child is sufficiently old and mature enough to understand the significance of the decision.
If there are other factors that the court would consider material, the court will examine them as well. For the most part, the primary residence of the child will be that of the parent who has been the primary caretaker, although the court cannot assume the mother is the one. Over the last few years, there has been a drastic move towards providing parents with equal parenting time. Pay attention to the upcoming legislative session on any new law that may be passed that assume parents shall have a 50/50 schedule unless same would be detrimental to the child.