As if divorce was not difficult enough, determining how your children will be raised and which parent will engage in the bulk of that raising is just as difficult. In the past, the legal responsibilities of each parent (including child support) as well as their obligations to the child were dealt with in the divorce decree. Eventually, the courts realized that divorcing parents desperately needed a way to deal with parenting issues which are not spelled out in the divorce decree.
Most parents are now required to submit a detailed parenting plan which will address the myriad of issues related to a child’s care and upbringing. The skilled attorneys at The Law Place can help you negotiate such a parenting plan, drafting each component in a way that addresses the best interests of the child while making adjustments for each parents’ day-to-day lives. We have an ongoing goal of assisting you, as our client, to work out an agreement with your former spouse that everyone involved can live with.
What is the Difference Between a Florida Custody Agreement and a Parenting Plan?
In the end, a parenting plan and a custody agreement have many things in common; a parenting plan is a binding, legal document created by the parents or the court (by default) which governs the relationship between the parents as that relationship pertains to the decisions which must be made regarding the child.
Florida statute 61.13 (2)(b) details what must be included in a parenting plan. In most cases you and your child’s other parent will work together to create a parenting plan. Should you simply be unable to agree with one another on a workable plan, the court will create one for you, and it is likely that neither of you will be happy with the resulting plan. This means it is definitely in the best interests of both parents to put aside your differences and work out a plan that will be acceptable to all. According to statute, your parenting plan must include the following:
• A statement must be included in your parenting plan which thoroughly describes the manner in which both parents will share and be responsible for the day-to-day tasks associated with raising a child.
• You will include a detailed time-sharing schedule which clearly delineates the times your child will spend with you and the times your child will spend with his or her other parent. This includes regular weekday times, weekends, school holidays, major holidays including birthdays, and vacation times.
• The parenting plan will include the details of the responsible party for your child’s health care, matters related to school, religious upbringing, after-school activities and any other applicable activities. Which parent’s address will be used for school boundary determination, who will register the child in school and who will claim the child on annual tax returns will also be addressed.
• Your parenting plan will include the methods you will employ regarding communication between parents and between parents and child. This could include e-mail communication, telephone communication or text communication between the parent who is not physically with the child.
It is also helpful to include the method which will be used to “exchange” the child, as well as to include a process which will be used in the event of a dispute between you and the child’s other parent.
What Happens if You and Your Spouse Can’t Agree on a Parenting Plan?
If you are involved in a particularly contentious divorce it may simply be impossible for you and the child’s other parent to agree on a parenting plan, however the court will only create a parenting plan on your behalf as a last resort. Generally speaking the court lacks intimate knowledge of your life and the personal relationships you have with your child and your ex as well as the needs of your child and how your family dynamics work (or don’t work). This means that if there is any way at all for you and your child’s other parent to work out a mutually acceptable parenting plan, you should do so. If you absolutely cannot reach such an agreement, then the court will take matters into its own “hands” and present you with a parenting plan which must be honored by both parents.
What Do the Florida Courts Consider in Reaching a Custody Agreement?
If the court is forced to make a custody ruling or compile a parenting plan, they will consider the following factors:
• The ability and willingness of each parent to facilitate a close parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule and to be reasonable when changes become necessary.
• The manner in which parental responsibilities will be divided following the divorce, and which of these responsibilities will be designated to third parties such as grandparents and child care workers.
• The willingness of each parent to truly act in the best interests of the child regardless of their personal feelings.
• The amount of time the child has lived in a stable environment and whether that same stable environment should continue
• The fitness of each parent, including moral fitness as well as mental and physical health
• The history of the child, including school history
• If the child is old enough and mature enough, the reasonable preferences of the child may be taken into consideration.
• The extent to which each parent is and will be informed about the child’s life; this includes the child’s friends, his or her teachers, doctors, everyday activities and what the child’s favorite things are.
• The ability of each parent to provide a stable home life and consistent routine for the child. This can include homework schedules, mealtimes, bedtimes and even discipline.
• Any evidence of abandonment, neglect, abuse or violence will be a factor in determining custody. Further, if it is discovered that either parent provided untrue information to the courts such lies will definitely work against the parent.
What Will Your Parenting Plan Include?
If you and your ex are able to reach a mutually agreeable parenting plan, remember to think specifically rather than in general terms. For instance, in matters of time sharing, remember to consider each parent’s work schedule, the cost and location of child care and the child’s school and after-school schedules. Most commonly, one parent will have the child during the week, the other parent will have every other weekend and one weeknight each week. Some parents choose to split the time equally and this can work well when the parents live in close proximity to one another as well as close to the child’s school. If there is significant physical distance between the parents, equal time-sharing can end up in chronic chaos when backpacks, homework, lunch bags or gym clothes get left at the other parent’s home.
Vacations may include spring and summer breaks and long weekends and typically are alternated from year to year or time to time, with the summer break being split in half. Holidays, including Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and the child’s birthday must be shared between parents. The holidays may be alternated (one year you have the child on Christmas day, the next year the other parent has the child for Christmas day, etc.) If you and your ex are able to get along—even if only for the sake of the child, you might spend the child’s birthday together so both parents are able to spend that time with the child, otherwise the child’s birthday could be alternated from year to year.
Shared parental responsibilities which will be detailed in the parenting plan include educational decisions, religious upbringing, school choices and any other major decisions pertaining to the child. If one parent travels extensively for his or her employment or lives for a large portion of each year outside the state or country, then obviously these parental responsibilities will more likely be left to the more stable parent. Transportation to and from dropping the child off with the other parent will be detailed as well as school emergency contact notification and health care notification. If one parent plans on traveling with the child during his or her time, the parenting plan may include provisions for a detailed itinerary to be provided to the non-traveling parent.
If your child is at an age where child care is necessary, the choice of a child care provider could be an issue in your parenting plan. First right of refusal should be noted, meaning when a parent requires child care the other parent is given the first opportunity to take care of the child. In this electronic age, use of e-mails can be a better choice for parents who have difficulty communicating in person. Important events for the child, including the date, time, place and cost can be updated on an electronic calendar shared by both parents.
What is a Parenting Coordination Program?
Florida has a program known as a parenting coordination program which helps parents having a difficult time with their parenting plan or those experiencing custody disputes. The court may appoint a parenting coordinator to assist in creating a parenting plan which caters to the needs of the child while addressing parental conflict. If the parents are unable—even with the help of a parenting coordinator—to reach a mutually agreeable custody arrangement and parenting plan, the court will take the recommendation of the parenting coordinator into consideration. The downside of a parenting coordinator is that it can be very expensive; a retainer fee must be paid in advance, then the hourly fee will be split between the parents.
If you need assistance in developing a workable parenting plan, we can help. The skilled attorneys of The Law Place will carefully listen to your description of your child’s day-to-day life as well as your own goals and concerns. We will help you develop a parenting plan which addresses the practical issues and meets the requirements of Florida law. Before presenting your plan to the court we will ensure the parenting plan is agreeable to the other parent. Our goal is to prevent a return to court, while providing you with a plan which works for your life and the life of your child.