In Divorce cases involving minor children the most important matter for the Court to address is parenting. The Court has a duty to protect the well-being of the child and employs the “best-interests” of the child standard in making decisions regarding children. In 2008, the Florida Legislature updated the Florida Statutes, Chapter61.13 creating a “Parenting Plan” requirement when obtaining a divorce with minor children. The Parenting Plan is a separate andlegally required document which sets out in great detail how the parties will co-parent their children post-divorce. The Parenting Plan sets forth how the parents will conduct themselves when exercising time-sharing, including pick-up and drop-off times and locations, as well as summer break and holiday time-sharing. The Parenting Plan also describes the manner and methods of communication parents will utilize between one another and their children, as well as decision making regarding the child, i.e. medical, scholastic, and extra-curricular decisions, and how medical expenses will be covered.
Q. My Spouse and I are in agreement about how we will co-parent, do we really need a Parenting Plan? Yes. In all divorce cases involving minor children a Parenting Plan is required. Once your Petition for Dissolution is filed, you are essentially asking the court to provide relief on matters that either you and your spouse cannot agree upon; or, you are asking the court to ratify an agreement that you have entered into. In either case, the court’s duty to protect the children and ensure their best interests applies. It is obviously better for everyone, most of all the child(ren) when parents can agree on as many co-parenting decisions as possible. If parents are able to agree on all issues, most often the court will ratify the agreement of the parties and retain jurisdiction to enforce the agreement if necessary.
Q. I’ve heard that the Court favors 50/50 timesharing and that’s not good for my child, can I get custody of my child? Generally, No. Almost immediately after the statute requiring aParenting Plan went into effect, many judges began awarding equal (50/50) timesharing. For the next two years many family law judges mistook the removal of the term “primary residential parent” for the creating of a presumption favoring equal time-sharing in the absence of a good reason to do otherwise. Finally in 2010, this judicial behavior was corrected by the appellate courts emphasizing that there was “no presumption for any particular type of timesharing,” rather all cases should be dealt with on a case by case manner with the focus being the “best interest of the child.” Please try at all costs to refrain from using the term “my child.” The court will see the child as the child of the marriage, and even though you may be divorcing your spouse, your ex-spouse will always remain that child’s parent; therefore, the court’s expect the parties to refer to the minor child as “our” child. If you simply cannot do this, or find yourself slipping, try referring to the child by name in the presence of the court and when communicating regarding the child; especially, on social media.
Today, family law judges tend to order equal time sharing when the parties work schedules and residential proximities to one another facilitates equal time sharing upon a finding that this is in fact the “best interest of the child.” The factors which the court must consider are as follows:
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule and to be reasonable when changes are required.
- The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties.
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.
- The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
- The geographic viability of the parenting plan, with special attention paid to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the parenting plan. This factor does not create a presumption for or against relocation of either parent with a child.
- The moral fitness of the parents.
- The mental and physical health of the parents.
- The home, school, and community record of the child.
- The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.
- The demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the circumstances of the minor child, including but not limited to the child’s friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things.
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime.
- The demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of issues and activities regarding the minor child, and the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child.
- Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought. If the court accepts evidence of prior or pending actions regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, the court must specifically acknowledge in writing that such evidence was considered when evaluating the best interest of the child.
- Evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any prior or pending action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment or child neglect.
- The particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the institution of litigation and during the pending litigation, including the extent to which parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties.
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities.
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse.
- The capacity and disposition of each parent to protect the child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child.
- The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child’s developmental needs.
- Any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule.