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SPRING BREAK is upon us once again. For many families it’s a time of fun in the sun and surf. However, for newly separated and divorcing families, it can be a confusing and painful time as they try to sort through timesharing and scheduling issues with minor children, perhaps for the first major holiday break, since, often, couples will wait until after Christmas to separate.
In Florida, divorcing couples with minor children must work together to create a Parenting Plan to submit to the Court. As part of that Parenting Plan, the parents must agree to and devise a time-sharing schedule for each child, addressing the weekdays and nights, weekends, and each holiday and school break. They also must address how the children will be transported and exchanged between the parents and any associated costs of transportation, particularly if it involves out of state or foreign travel.
The Court is required by the law to determine all matters related to parenting and time-sharing of minor children in accordance with the “best interests of the child.” This is the legal standard. The public policy of the state is that it is in the best interests of the child to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or divorce and “to encourage parents to share the rights, responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.” (An exception may be if the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child. For instance, evidence that a parent has been convicted of a misdemeanor of the first degree or higher involving domestic violence could raise a rebuttable presumption of detriment to the child.)
Currently, the law provides some latitude and allows the Court to consider the express desires of the parents in granting one parent ultimate responsibility over specific aspects of a minor child’s welfare, or to divide responsibilities based on the best interests of the child. For example, one parent may be tasked with taking more responsibility for health care or education decisions.
The Court also may order sole parental responsibility for a minor child to one parent, with or without time-sharing with the other parent, if the Court, ultimately finds it is in the best interests of the child. However, access to records and information pertaining to the child, such as medical and school records, may not be denied to either parent unless the Court specifically revokes these rights.
Once a Parenting Plan and time-sharing schedule has been created and approved by the Court, it may not be modified without a showing of a substantial, material and unanticipated change in circumstances, and a determination that the modification is in the best interests of the child. In determining the bests interests of the child, the law requires the Court to evaluate all the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of the family (the statute lists about 20 factors for the Court to consider).
The Parenting Plan, including the time-sharing schedule, is important, and should not be taken lightly. All too often, we see clients, in their eagerness to “get through” the divorce rush through the Parenting Plan, often just agreeing with the other party so they can “get it done” thinking they will make adjustments later. They are shocked when they find out later how difficult it can be to change a time-sharing arrangement once it has been made and approved by the Court.
If you are facing separation and possibly divorce, come talk to us. We would welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you may have about Parenting Plans, time-sharing, child custody, child support and any other related issues or concerns. Each case is different and the information we’ve provided here may or may not apply to the facts of your case. Please contact Sandra K. Ambrose to schedule a consultation and to learn more about our qualifications.