Understanding Child Custody Arrangements and Parenting Plans
What exactly is “parental responsibility?”
The term “parental responsibility” refers to who has the authority to make decisions for the child. The term “custody” is not used in Florida law.
The court prefers that both parents share decision-making authority over their child and will order this unless it is not in the child’s best interests.
When the court orders one parent to make all decisions for the child without consulting the other parent, this is referred to as “sole parental responsibility.” Even if the court orders sole parental responsibility, time-sharing with the other parent may be ordered.
What exactly is time-sharing?
The term “time-sharing” refers to when both parents spend time with their children; Florida law does not use the term “visitation.”
What exactly is marital dissolution?
In Florida, divorce is referred to as “dissolution of marriage.”
Is it necessary for me to have a parenting plan?
Yes, even if you and your spouse agree on the terms, you will have a parenting plan if you are divorcing and have children under the age of 18. When deciding on a parenting plan, the court will take many factors into account. The judge is required by law to make every effort to ensure that children have regular and ongoing contact with both parents. Both parents are expected to “share the rights and responsibilities, as well as the joys and sorrows, of childrearing.”
Parenting plans are one aspect of a divorce on which you and your spouse can agree (by negotiation or mediation). A parenting plan agreement can then be submitted to the judge for approval.
What must be included in a parenting plan?
A parenting plan must include the following elements:
- how the parties intend to share the daily tasks involved in raising a child or children;
- a time-sharing schedule
- a decision on who will be in charge of filling out forms for health care, school, and other activities; and, how parents will communicate with the children
If you have children under the age of 18, Florida law also requires that both spouses attend a parenting class before the court can grant a final divorce. The clerk of court in your area can provide you with more specific information on when and where these classes are offered.
What factors does the court consider when determining the best interests of the child?
The law requires the judge to consider 20 factors in order to determine what is best for the child(ren):
- Whether each parent has demonstrated that they are able and willing to help have a close relationship with the child, take the schedule seriously, and can be reasonable when changes are required.
- How the parent’s responsibilities for the child will be divided following the divorce, including how much responsibility people other than the parents will have for the child.
- How each of the parents has demonstrated that they prioritize the child’s needs over their own.
- How long has the child been in a stable environment, and how important is it for him or her to remain there?
- Where everyone lives, particularly considering how much time the child will have to spend traveling.
- The parents’ moral fitness.
- The parents’ mental and physical health.
- The child’s home, school, and community records.
- What the child desires.
- How each parent has demonstrated an interest in keeping up to date on the child’s interests, friends, and teachers.
- How each parent has demonstrated that they provide the child with a consistent schedule for things like rules, homework, meals, and bedtime.
- How each of the parents has demonstrated that they communicate with the other parent about what is going on with the child, and how each is willing to work together as a team when it comes to the child.
- Any information pertaining to domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, or mistreatment.
- Information indicating that either parent lied to the court about a child’s violence, sexual violence, abuse, or mistreatment.
- What parenting responsibilities did each parent have prior to the divorce? (and which were done by other people).
- Each parent’s desire to be involved in their child’s activities both inside and outside of school.
- How each of the parents has demonstrated that they do not allow their children to be exposed to drug and alcohol abuse.
- How each parent has demonstrated that they avoid discussing the divorce with the child and avoid saying things to the child that are unkind to the other parent.
- The child’s developmental stages and needs, as well as how each parent has demonstrated their ability to meet those needs.
- Anything else that will assist the judge in making a decision.
What does a parenting plan entail?
To assist you in completing a parenting plan, the Florida Courts website provides free forms. All of them can be found under the Forms tab.
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