Navigating how to co-parent during and after divorce is one of the biggest stresses single parents have. There is a lot of information that parents need to stay in compliance with the parenting plan, and as a preventative measure in case a dispute arises about parenting time or financial contributions. The current structure of child custody, now referred to as parenting time, is encapsulated in a parenting plan, and requires much more cooperation between divorced parents than in the past. Divorced parents are now expected to share responsibility for a child in the majority of cases, which includes having the child for roughly the same number of overnights, though in practice one parent typically has more, and sharing decision-making responsibility over issues such as education and child care. Consequently, the former clear lines of delineation between each parent’s rights and obligations are less clear, which creates the potential for more disputes. A Florida father created a new parenting app that is designed to help parents better coordinate and document co-parenting duties so there is less confusion about where a child is supposed to be on a given day, and to record important information in case legal disputes occur. Since the components of a parenting plan are now so integral to custody, understanding what exactly is contained within the document, and how courts evaluate the adequacy of a proposed plan, will be discussed below.
There are three ways a parenting plan may be created: by agreement of both parties, as presented by one party, or by the court if no plan is offered or the proposed option is insufficient. Courts prefer that both parents agree on their own parenting plan since it greatly impacts their parenting rights and responsibilities, but all parenting plans, whether mutually agreed to or not, must be approved by a court before they are enforceable. In its most basic form, all parenting plans must include the following:
- how parenting will divide daily caretaking duties for the child;
- a time-sharing schedule that outlines how much time a child will spend with each parent;
- which parent will be responsible for medical care, school matters and other activities. Note this authority can be shared, and is not required to rest with just one parent; and
- how each parent will communicate with the child.
Courts expect parenting plans to take into account the child’s needs, both present and future, and to anticipate potential issues of conflict, as well as how the parents will resolve them. Thus, the less detailed and thorough a proposed plan is, the more likely a court will reject it and come up with its version.
When a court looks at a parenting plan, the underlying issue the judge is assessing is whether the plan represents an arrangement that is in the best interests of the child. This evaluation is accomplished by considering a long list of factors that appear in Florida law. Some of these factors include:
- the ability of each parent to follow the parenting plan, encourage a relationship with the other parent, and be flexible when changes are necessary;
- the anticipated division of responsibilities, especially the amount of time the child would be cared for by a third party;
- the ability of each parent to put the needs of the child first;
- the geographic viability of the plan, particularly for school-aged children;
- the ability of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child; and
- the ability of each parent to keep the other informed about child-related issues and to present a united front on major issues.
Child custody issues are crucial matters that need to be dealt with properly to ensure the child is protected, but the law in this area is quite involved. While standard parenting plan forms do exist online, they cannot provide the guidance and knowledge an experienced family law attorney can. The Tampa Bay law firm All Family Law Group, P.A. have years of experience negotiating and litigating solutions to child custody matters, and working with them can give you peace of mind that your parental rights and your child’s welfare will be properly represented. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+