DIVORCE WITH MINOR CHILDREN – Orange and Osceola County’s Standing Temporary Administrative Order on Divorce with minor Children

The breakup of a marriage is a stressful time and causes people to often react emotionally; allowing fear and anger to cloud judgment and otherwise behave uncharacteristically. Family Law Attorneys should always strive to fully educate their clients on the law and represent them zealously; and attorneys should always consider the client’s best interests and assist them in avoiding or de-escalating conflict whenever possible in family cases.

The Courts generally strive to get ahead of a litigant’s potential runaway emotional reactions, to minimize conflict and promote resolution while divorce cases are pending resolution. For example, the Chief Judge in Orange and Osceola Counties, comprising the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, instructs the Clerk of Court to provide each Parent/Petitioner filing a Dissolution of Marriage an AMENDED ORDER IMPLEMENTING A STANDING
TEMPORARY ORDER FOR DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE ACTIONS WITH OR WITHOUT MINOR CHILDREN, ORANGE& OSCEOLA COUNTIES. The Petitioner is then Ordered to serve a copy of this Standing Administrative Order on the Respondent /Spouse/Parent along with the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.

Attorneys refer to this Order as the Court’s Standing Administrative Order, “SAO,” and are charged with providing and explaining its significance and ramifications to the client. First, the SAO takes effect immediately upon the filing of a contested Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. Secondly, the SAO is “binding” and enforceable by sanctions for failure to comply. Thirdly, the Order does not supersede or modify any existing domestic violence injunction or other order by a court having jurisdiction over the parties or minor children. Finally, the SAO remains in full force and effect until further order of the court such as the entry of a final judgment, a dismissal of the case, or until the entry of a subsequent temporary Order that alters the SAO, whichever
occurs first.

The stated purpose of the SAO is to promote the stability of families going through a divorce by providing guidelines to help the parties pattern their behavior, to reduce conflict and to make decisions that will work for the family.

The court’s primary concern in a divorce with children is the protection of children; and the legal standard involving all children’s issues is the “best interests of the children.” The Court’s goal in providing and enforcing its SAO is to teach the parties about the problems, duties, and responsibilities of litigation and parenting after separation and divorce. Furthermore, the SAO seeks to minimize the number of “emergency” hearings during the beginning stages of the dissolution case, promoting a spirit of cooperation among the parties, with the goal of providing stability, preserving the resources of the parties and the court.

SHARED PARENTING – Contact with Both Parents Required:

Excerpt from SAO a. – d:

  1. It is the law that, unless the Court makes a specific ruling that it would be detrimental to the child(ren), the Court shall order shared parental responsibility, contact with both parents is in the child(ren)’s best interests, and children are entitled to frequent and continuing contact with both parents when the parents separate or divorce. In establishing the parenting plan and timesharing schedule, the Court will analyze the factors set forth in section 61.13(3), Florida Statutes. However, until a court order is entered each party is entitled to time-sharing with the child(ren).
  2. Further, a parent who wants to have the majority of the time-sharing with the child(ren) has an affirmative obligation to encourage and nurture a relationship between the child(ren) and the other parent. A parent who unreasonably restricts access of the child(ren) to the other parent and does not encourage a relationship between the child(ren) and the other parent, for no valid reason, can be a basis to limit that parent’s timesharing with the child(ren). Such a parent is not acting in the child(ren)’s best interests and is not following the law.
  3. The Court hereby orders “shared parenting” of the child(ren) by the parents. This means that wherever the child(ren) is (are) living from time to time, the parents must confer with each other and agree upon all MAJOR parenting decisions. Therefore, both parents must participate in all major parenting decisions and shall immediately work out their own timesharing schedules, with each party having substantial overnight timesharing on a regular basis. If the parents cannot agree on any issue, then the Court will decide.
  4. The shared parenting guidelines and the parents’ respect for and compliance with them shall be considered by the Court in future child-related matters, such as the determination of the parenting plan and timesharing schedule with the children.

SHARED PARENTING GUIDELINES – The following Guidelines are explicitly spelled out in the Courts binding SAO; as follows:

The safety, financial security and well-being of the child(ren) involved in this case are the Court’s primary concern. Parents should follow these guidelines:

It is the law, except in certain rare circumstances, that both parents will share parental responsibility for all minor children involved in this case. The law requires parents to share the child(ren)’s time and to participate together in making all important decisions concerning the child(ren). The law expects parents to put aside their feelings and cooperate on all decisions involving the child(ren). Under Section 61.13, Florida Statutes, a parent who is unable to abide by these guidelines, absent a showing of good cause, is not acting in the child(ren)’s best interest, and can be a basis to limit that parent’s timesharing with the child(ren). Parents should familiarize themselves with the expectations of Florida law regarding co-parenting at the beginning of the case.

Therefore, parents must recognize the following:

Children have a right to a loving, open and continuing relationship with both parents. They have the right to express love, affection and respect for one parent in the presence of the other parent.

Neither parent may alienate a child’s affection for the other parent.

Parents must separate any bad feelings for one another from their duties as parents. Their duty is to share the child(ren)’s time and share in making parenting decisions. Children must be free to draw their own conclusions about each parent, without the prejudicial influences of the other parent.

Children have the right to never hear a parent, or a relative or friend of a parent, run down or degrade the other parent.

Children have the right to be free from guilt because the parents have decided to separate. They are entitled to honest answers to questions about changes taking place in family makeup. Parents should never be so preoccupied with their own problems that they fail to meet the child(ren)’s needs. Separation of the parents usually has a worse impact on the child(ren) than on the parents, a fact both parents should never forget.

Each parent should openly, honestly, respectfully and regularly communicate with the other parent to avoid misunderstandings. They should never argue about the children in front of them. Parents should discuss all differences regarding their separation and financial issues between them and parenting decisions out of the presence of the child. Both parents should always try to present a united front in handling any problems with the child(ren).

Generally, children have the right to regular and continuing contact with both parents. Parents should arrange all time-sharing and exchanges together and not through the child. The child should never be the messenger between the parents.

Time-sharing plans should be kept and never cancelled unless absolutely necessary. If plans change, children should be given an explanation, preferably in advance and by the parent causing the cancellation.

Common courtesies (politeness, promptness, readiness, calling to notify if one is going to be late) should always be observed when picking up and dropping off children. These times can be very stressful on children, so it is imperative that parents always behave as responsible adults. Between visits, children should be encouraged to contact the absent parent by letter and phone, frequently and continuously.

Parent/child access and child support, while they may be emotionally connected, are separate and distinct under the law. Accordingly, a child’s right of access to his or her parent is not contingent upon the payment of child support.

A child should never be the delivery person for support payments.

Both parents are entitled to participate in and attend all special activities in which their child(ren) is (are) engaged, such as religious activities, school programs, sports events and other extra-curricular activities and programs.

“Shared Parenting” under Florida law is a complex law that earnestly attempts to achieve our State’s public policy of fostering frequent and continuing contact with both parents. Under Florida law this is considered the prescribed “default” best interest of the children. While ideally the “gold” standard is for children to spend frequent and continuing contact with each parent, without presumption in favor of either parent, Shared Parental Responsibility has many moving parts. It is impossible for the black-letter law to account for every possible family scenario relating to child rearing and children’s issues. Therefore, the “best interest of the child” standard is used by the court to determine a parenting plan for parties that cannot agree how they will parent their child(ren) post-divorce.

Clearly sometimes, parents have very different ideas on what constitutes what is in the child’s best interest. Each family has its unique norms, customs, and ideas relating to child-rearing. Children do not come into this world with a “how to” instructions manual. Most of us rely on family and societal norms and morals to guide us along step by step. Although divorce with children is often a very stressful transition, sound legal guidance and advice can prove invaluable to you and your family transitioning through divorce. Seek legal counsel well in advance of filing a petition for divorce whenever possible; especially when children are involved to reduce the stress associated with the divorce process and settling into life post-divorce.

Once a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed the SAO is binding on the parties until the parties enter into a written agreement that alters the SAO, a subsequent Order of the Court is entered, a Final Judgment is entered, or the case is dismissed. It is important for every person seeking a divorce to speak to an attorney and fully understand their legal rights and responsibilities before filing for Divorce. Not knowing what is expected of you and how the
court will require you to conduct yourself relating to how you raise your children can have very negative consequence and even result, in extreme cases, the loss of “time-sharing” with your children.

Each family is unique, talk to an attorney about your specific set of circumstances and concerns relating to child issues to develop the most suitable parenting plan for your family’s needs.

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