Creation and Approval of a Parenting Plan under Florida Law
What are the Requirements for the Creation and Approval of a Parenting Plan?
In Florida, a Parenting Plan approved by the court must, at a minimum, describe in adequate detail the following:
- How the parents will share and be responsible for the daily tasks associated with the upbringing of the child;
- The time-sharing schedule arrangements that specify the time that the minor child will spend with each parent;
- A designation of who will be responsible for any and all forms of health care, school-related matters including the address to be used for school-boundary determination and registration, and other activities; and,
- The methods and technologies that the parents will use to communicate with the child.
There is a standard Parenting Plan form which has been approved by the Florida Supreme Court a copy of which can be found at: http://www.flcourts.org/core/fileparse.php/293/urlt/995a.pdf.
However, this standard form may not include every possible issue that may be relevant to the facts and circumstances of each case. Therefore, the Parenting Plan should be as detailed as possible and tailored specifically for each case to address all circumstances unique to each family.
What is Time-Sharing?
It is the public policy of Florida that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved. In 2008, Florida law eliminated the terms commonly referred to as “custody” or “primary residential parent.” Now, we use only use the term “time-sharing” for determining each parent’s contact and access with a child.
Presently, there is no presumption under Florida law for or against the father or mother of the child or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule when creating or modifying the parenting plan of the child. Instead, all matters relating to time-sharing of each minor child of the parties must be determined by the Court in accordance with the best interests of the child.
What is Shared Parental Responsibility versus Sole Parental Responsibility?
It is the public policy of Florida to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of child rearing.
Shared Parental Responsibility requires that all major decisions that affect the welfare of the child shall be determined jointly. Such major decisions shall include, but not be limited to, health, welfare, education and upbringing, and any other responsibilities that the court finds unique to a particular. It also requires a parent to use his and her best efforts at all times to encourage and foster the maximum relationships of love and affection between the minor child and their mother and father.
In ordering shared parental responsibility, the court may consider the expressed desires of the parents and may grant to one party the ultimate responsibility over specific aspects of the child’s welfare or may divide those responsibilities between the parties based on the best interests of the child.
In cases where the court finds that Shared Parental Responsibility would be detrimental to the child such as a case involving domestic violence, substance abuse or mental health issues, the Court will award one parent Sole Parental Responsibility. Sole Parental Responsibility allows one parent to unilaterally make all major decisions that affect the welfare of the child.
Each parent shall have the right to access records and information pertaining to a minor child, including, but not limited to, medical, dental, and school records, unless a court order specifically revokes these rights.
What are the Best Interests of the Child Factors?
For all matters relating to establishing or modifying parental responsibility and creating, developing, approving, or modifying a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, which governs each parent’s relationship with his or her minor child and the relationship between each parent with regard to his or her minor child, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration of the court.
Florida law specifically provides twenty (20) separate “best interests” factors the Court must evaluate to determining the best interests of a minor child, which 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 interests 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.
In the event of a dispute between the parties in the creation and approval of any aspects of a Parenting Plan, it is important that a party present to the trial court evidence as to each of the “best interest” factors.
Jonathan Schiller is a Florida Bar board certified specialist in Marital and Family Law and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. He concentrates 100% of his practice in the area of marital and family law primarily in Broward County, Palm Beach County, and Miami-Dade County.