Going through a divorce is never easy, but when children are involved, the situation takes on a completely new level of tension and concern. Florida law recognizes the best interests of children involved in family law matters to be the primary focus of any proceedings or processes. Family law matters are often emotionally charged and complex and it is important that the relationships between parents and children remain as intact as possible throughout the process.
In order to determine what is in the best interests of the child, Florida courts may look at a variety of factors, including:
- The duration of a stable environment in the home.
- The physical, mental, and moral health of each parent.
- The ability of each parent to maintain a safe, stable environment.
- The ability of each parent to meet the developmental needs of the child.
- Any history of domestic violence.
- If the child is found by the court to be capable of making an educated decision, the child can choose which parent with whom he or she would prefer to reside.
It is important that Florida parents realize that there is no “cookie-cutter” resolution to child custody matters. The court will look at a variety of factors in each parent’s life, as well as the child’s before making a determination.
Parenting Plans and Timesharing
Florida law has changed in the last ten years and as of 2008 requires any couple separating or divorcing to create a formal parenting plan. This parenting plan must have provisions for the day-to-day care of the child, as well as provisions about how responsibilities for the child will be managed. Parenting plans may include items, such as:
- Which parent will be the primary caregiver of the child.
- Which school the child will attend and how school activities will be managed.
- How healthcare decisions will be made.
- How communication and visitation will be managed.
One of the most important elements of determining child custody is determining which parent will have primary physical custody of the child, also known as legal custody. This parent is the one that usually will provide day-to-day care for the child and have primary authority about where the child attends school, what religious affiliation will be encouraged, and decision-making for healthcare issues.
However, in many cases, both parents will share legal custody rights to make important decisions together collaboratively. This is known as timesharing. When one parent is awarded physical or legal custody, the other will be granted visitation rights, which will be outlined in a parenting plan. Florida recognizes custody and visitation plans as “timesharing” because the goal is for both parents to have rights and input into the child’s life. Timesharing is designed to provide fair, equal involvement for both parents to be involved in making decisions regarding the upbringing of the child.
It is important that parents understand the goal of timesharing when creating a parenting plan to avoid alienating the non-custodial parent. In many divorce cases, the parents can successfully work together to create a parenting plan suitable for an uncontested divorce. In cases where parents cannot agree, the court may opt to have a parenting coordinator work with parents, or may leave the parenting plan in the hands of a judge. The benefit of having a parenting coordinator is that it allows for an objective third party to help guide the process smoothly.
In addition to the basic components of the parenting plan, successful timesharing goes into greater detail and includes a contingency plan. Some of the common elements to successful timesharing plans include:
- Parental division of important holidays and birthdays
- Summer vacation plans, guidelines, and restrictions
- How communication will occur between parents, and at what intervals for regular sharing of information and important news
- How emergencies will be handled, including healthcare, school-related, or parental emergencies
- Contingency plan in the event that one parent relocates and the other is unable to do so
- Guidelines for extended visitation with relatives, such as grandparents, without one parent present
Modifying Child Custody or Timesharing
Everyone knows how easily situations can change in life. In some cases, these changes can affect the terms of child custody and timesharing, causing one parent to seek a modification of the terms. Common reasons why modification may be sought includes loss of employment, relocation, remarriage, or increase in income of one parent. In any of these circumstances, either parent can petition the court for modification of the previously finalized agreement. Then, the court will consider the facts of the case and make a determination.
If the primary custodial parent is the parent who wants to relocate, then the non-custodial parent will be left with the option of relocating as well, or petitioning the court to modify custody. One of the important elements of determining child custody is the environment that the child is accustomed to, such as schooling, friends, and family. If the primary custodial parent wants to move the children to a location far away from this consistency, then the court may modify the custody agreement in favor of the other parent who intends to remain in the familiar residence.
If the non-custodial parent chooses to relocate away from the children, then the timesharing agreement must be modified to reflect the distance between homes. Much like the original child custody determination, during modification, the best interests of the child are the primary concern of the court. If the child is old enough and has the cognitive ability to make an educated choice, the child can also state his or her own preference as to which parent they would like to reside with.
When it comes to modification petitions, it is crucial to seek the guidance of an attorney experienced in modifying child custody and timesharing agreements in order to ensure the legality of the modification and new agreement.
To learn more about child custody and timesharing, meet with an experienced Gainesville Family Law Attorney today. Call our office to schedule a free consultation.