Going through a divorce is difficult enough before a person considers the children whose world is being irrevocably altered. When a divorce proceeding is ongoing, the court will do everything possible to make decisions for the benefit of any children. Florida courts encourage parents to reach an amicable resolution for the care and support of their children and will use counseling and mediation as part of the process. In order to facilitate this type of resolution, Florida also has the requirement of a Parenting Plan, which basically is Florida’s form of a custody agreement.
Florida Parenting Plans
Under Florida law, a Parenting Plan specifically created to meet the needs of the individual child needs to be created and approved by the court – this is what sets forth the custody agreement. The parents need to cooperate to arrive at a consensus about how the children will be raised and how each parent will participate in the child’s upbringing. This Parenting Plan needs to anticipate issues and come up with solutions as to how each situation will be handled. The Plan needs to speak to custody and time-sharing agreements, school, and extracurricular activities, medical and healthcare matters, and any other circumstances relevant to the particular child. Parenting Plans are formulated to lay out expectations and avoid conflicts. Although a plan cannot anticipate every possible occurrence, it will provide a road map that can make the process of sharing responsibility for a child much easier.
If the parents fail to agree on a Parenting Plan or come up with a plan that the court will not approve, then the court will step in and establish the Parenting Plan, eliminating a lot of control from the hands of the parents. Therefore, it is in the best interests of both the parents and the child to come up with an acceptable Plan. When reviewing a Parenting Plan, the court will consider the following:
- Each parent’s ability to maintain a close emotional relationship with the child;
- Each parent’s ability to ascertain the specific needs of the child and take the appropriate actions to address those needs;
- The geographic location of each of the parents in relation to the child;
- Each parent’s ability to provide a stable residence and home life for the child;
- The emotional, mental, and physical health of each of the parents;
- Any evidence of abuse, neglect, or abandonment of the child;
- The educational and developmental needs of the child; and
- Any other facts or circumstances that impact the well-being of the child.
The Parenting Plan is the document that governs the custodial agreement between the parents In order to provide some guidance to families in formulating these Plans, the Florida Supreme Court has approved three generic plans that apply in certain circumstances. These approved plans address:
- A Parenting Plan for when the two parents live within a relatively close proximity to each other;
- A supervision and safety-focused plan for those circumstances where the safety of the child is an issue in determining visitation and time-sharing; and
- A Parenting Plan that addresses unique factors that exist when one parent is relocating or the parents live relatively far away from each other.
There are specific elements that must be included in the Parenting Plan. These are:
- A detailed statement explaining how each parent will divide the responsibilities and tasks that are part of the child-rearing process and necessary for the well-being of the child;
- The arrangements that have been made for the time-sharing schedule, specifically delineating how much time and in what manner each parent will spend time with the child;
- A determination of who will have the ultimate responsibility for making health care and school-related decisions, including the designation of the residence that will determine what school district the child attends. In addition, the Plan should outline the other anticipated activities and determine who will make the decisions relating to each of them.
- The means by which each parent will communicate with the child, specifically setting forth whether the primary contact will be by telephone or a digital medium.
(See Florida statute 61.13(2)(b)).
Florida Child Custody Determination
There are other issues that need to be considered as a Florida court will step in if the parents fail to decide upon a Parenting Plan or if the court believes that the Plan is not in the best interest of the child. Florida courts determine child custody issues under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Custody cases used to presume the best interest of the child meant that the mother would get custody. This has changed over time. Under current law, a Florida judge will thoroughly consider each of the facts of the particular case and then give equal consideration to both the father and mother. Under normal circumstances, parental responsibility will be shared equally by each of the parents, regardless of who has physical custody of the child. This time-sharing determination is set forth in the Parenting Plan. A judge does have the discretion to alter this if he or she believes that shared parental responsibility would be harmful to the child.
The best interest of the child is the overriding focus of the court’s scrutiny. If the judge decides that granting one parent sole parental custody, with or without an order permitting visitation of the other parent, is what will fulfill the best interest of the child then that will be the court’s order. When making a determination of what will be in the best interest of the child, the court will evaluate:
- Which parent will facilitate an environment in which the child has frequent ongoing contact with the nonresidential parent;
- Which parent will avoid making the child aware of any ongoing legal action involving this other parent;
- The relationship of the child with each child, including the strength of the emotional connection, as well as the overt signs of love and affection;
- The ability and willingness of each parent to provide the basic necessities to the child, including food, clothes, medical care, and other essential material requirements;
- The developmental needs of the child and the ability of each parent to satisfy those needs;
- The schooling and extracurricular needs of the child and the ability of each parent to satisfy those requirements;
- Get to know us: Bruce Przepis, Esq.The period of time in which the child has been is a particular environment, the stability of that residence, and the benefits of maintaining that circumstance;
- The ability of each parent to maintain a home environment that is free of any substance abuse;
- The nature of the custodial residence, including being set up to maintain an existing family environment. This can mean keeping a child with relatives in addition to a parent or siblings, including grandparents;
- The moral fitness of each of the parents;
- The physical and mental health of each of the parents;
- The available records of the child, including school, medical, community involvement, and any home evaluations;
- The expressed preference of the child, but only if the judge believes that the child possesses sufficient awareness of the situation, emotional intelligence, and understanding to make a reasoned determination about which parent he or she would want to have custody;
- Any evidence that one of the parents knowingly provided false information to the court in a domestic violence, sexual abuse, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect legal action;
- Any evidence of child abuse by either parent or anyone who would be in the child’s life as a result of the parent’s relationship with that person;
- Any evidence of domestic violence; and
- Any other evidence or circumstances that the court deems relevant.
Divorce actions often get very contentious. By having a clear Parenting Plan created with input from each parent, strife over parenting decisions can be minimized.
Consult an Experienced Florida Custody Attorney
If you have children and are going through a divorce, the knowledgeable and considerate attorneys at Ayo and Iken are ready to aggressively enforce your rights and make sure that you have time with and responsibility for your children. Zealously representing the interests of our clients in Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Clearwater, Lakeland, Wesley Chapel, and New Port Richey, Florida, our attorneys know how to achieve the best possible resolution in your child custody case. We understand how difficult this process is for you and invite you to meet with us for a free consultation, where we will listen to you and present your legal options. To schedule an appointment, please call us at 844-646-0198.
Author’s note from Attorney Howard Iken: Florida law requires parents to create a Parenting Plan for the care and support of their children, which must be approved by the court. The plan must anticipate issues and come up with solutions for custody and time-sharing agreements, school and extracurricular activities, medical and healthcare matters, and other relevant circumstances. The court will consider various factors when reviewing the plan, with the best interest of the child being the primary concern. If parents fail to agree on a plan, the court will step in and establish one. The court gives equal consideration to both parents and parental responsibility is shared equally, but the judge has the discretion to alter this if it is harmful to the child.