Custody is no longer a term used in family law in the State of Florida.
The Court now uses the term time-sharing.
The Courts are required to have Parenting Plans entered when time-sharing is an issue in a case.
Parenting Plans are entered in paternity and divorce cases and at times in modification and/or relocation cases. A Parenting Plan is known as the “bible” for parents as it relates to their rights and obligations for the minor child spelled out on a plan that the court enforces.
A Parenting Plan addresses various Issues relating to the child.
For example, it addresses the issue of parental responsibility.
This is how major decisions will be made relating to medical, educational, religious and extra-curricular matters.
There are various options available for decision making to parents.
Sole parental responsibility is the rarest option chosen by the courts. This is where only one parent exercises decision making rights over the child. This often occurs in substance abuse cases, defaults, sexual abuse, domestic violence, abandonment and other cases where a parent may not have the ability to make such decisions.
The second option is shared parental responsibility. This is often the option selected by the courts where the parents make these decisions together with an equal say.
The third option is ultimate decision making. Here the parents attempt to jointly make the decision. If that is not possible, one parent has the ability to override the other parent.
At times the court gives all decision authority to one parent. Other times, the court may split the decision, giving one parent ultimate decision making on medical and the other ultimate decision making on education, etc.
Another major issue discussed in the Parenting Plan is timesharing.
This is when the child/children will be with each parent.
The timesharing should be specifically stated with dates and times.
The Court rarely accepts an agreement that states timesharing will be as agreed by the parties.
The holiday timesharing is also specifically listed.
The plan also discuss the Summer Break, Winter Break and Spring Break.
There are many options available to parents as it relates to timesharing and should be considered on a case by case basis based upon the best interest of a child. A person should consult with an attorney before agreeing to any timesharing arrangement to understand all the options.
Travel is another major issue in the Parenting Plan.
The plan will discuss whether the parents can travel within and outside the United States.
Some plans also discuss the issue of a passport (applying and who holds it).
Before agreeing to out of country travel, you should consider issues of whether there are any concerns of the other parent keeping the child out of the country. If you have concerns about this you should immediately consult an attorney to determine what measures can be taken to prevent this.
School designation is another issue in the Parenting Plan.
Often the option of selecting the school designation for the parent who has the majority of the time is the option selected. However, there are other options. One can add language that the child will go to the better graded school in the parents’ districts. There are also charter school options to consider.
Communication options are also discussed in the Parenting Plan.
This includes how you will communicate with the other parent and how you will be able to communicate with your children while they are with that parent.
It is important to consider how effectively you communicate with the other parent when selecting options in this area. If you communicate well, selecting the ability to communicate using telephone, text, e-mail and in person may be appropriate.
If you do not get along well, there is a program call Talking Parents which is free and may be the best way to communicate with the other parent.
With regard to communication with your child, while many people like the option to communicate at any time, sometimes it is better to pick certain timeframes (i.e. 7:00 to 7:30).
It is easier to enforce certain timeframes if you find yourself unable to reach your child at the designated times.
The Florida Supreme Court has prepared a suggested Parenting Plan which can be found HERE under Parenting Plans.
Consulting a family law lawyer prior to executing a Parenting Plan is highly recommended.
Family law lawyers are familiar with the language that is necessary to ensure that the Parenting Plan will not be set aside by a court as not being in the best interest of a child.
Family law lawyers are also able to provide the advice needed to prevent the Parenting Plan from containing vague terms or terms that may require court interpretation at a later point.
There is nothing more important to most parents than their children. Having a sound Parenting Plan prepared can protect a parent’s rights and enable that parent to establish or maintain a lifelong and lasting relationship with their child.