The Parenting Plan is the legal document that sets forth how parents will share parental responsibility for their child.
Florida Courts require a Parenting Plan in all divorce cases involving children.
At a minimum a Parenting Plan must:
- describe how the parents will share and be responsible for the daily tasks associated with the upbringing of their child;
- include a time-sharing schedule;
- designate who will be responsible for healthcare, school related matters and other activities;
- describe in detail the technologies and methods that the parents will use to communicate with the child.
The Parenting Plan will include time-sharing schedules specifying how holidays, teacher work days, summers and other significant days such as Mother’s day and Father’s day will be shared, how extra-curricular expenseswill be shared, how medical expenses are shared, who has to carry medical insurance, and what school the child shall attend.
If the parents are not able to agree on these issues, the court will dictate the terms of the Parenting Plan and incorporate that Plan into the Final Judgment of Divorce. The court will reserve its jurisdiction to later enforce or modify the terms of the Parenting Plan if necessary.
The trial judge is required by law to make individual findings of fact and apply the law on all of the above issues based on witness testimony and presented evidence deemed legally relevant. Courts will not usually go beyond the required findings when making a decision that will affect how parents are to conduct themselves on children’s issues.
Parents have an opportunity to craft specific and individualized Parenting Plans for their children if they have the desireand ability to agree on parenting issues. This is much preferred to having a judge devise and later enforce a Parenting Plan for your child and family based upon evidence presented at trial. For example parents who agree to a 50-50 time-sharing schedule may want to draft a Parenting Plan that calls for Monday and Tuesday with one parent; Wednesday and Thursday with the other; and, alternating weekends for a young child, and agree that when the child starts middle school they will switch the schedule to one week on one week off.
Parents and their children will always be better off if they are able to put their differences aside and work together on a Parenting Plan that suits the needs of their child and the family’s circumstances. The parents have more expertise, and more experience with their child than anyone else ever will!
The attorneys at The Sanders Firm have the experience and ability to litigate Parenting Plans and establish the evidence necessary to achieve a Plan that meets the “best interests of the child” standard; however, we always encourage our clients to make a good-faith effort to agree to a parenting plan if at all possible.
When no agreement can be reached on a parenting plan, or there are serious concerns relating to the safety or well-being of the child, it is sometimes necessary to seek the appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem or psychologist to create a Proposed Parenting Plan recommendation to the court.
One of the questions we are most often asked is: “At what age does my child get to decide where he or she wants to live?”The short answer is when they are not a child anymore. However, the older and more mature a child is, the more the child’s opinion will matter to the court. A Guardian Ad Litem or expert opinion from a psychologist can help relay the specific desires of a child to the court. Except for very rare circumstances, children will not be permitted to testify in court.