The Parenting Plan
Many parents have questions about how visitation (time-sharing) works in a Florida Divorce or Paternity matter. Whether you’re wondering about where your son will spend his birthday or who will drive your daughter to dance practice, concerns about visitation can be intimidating for any loving parent. To settle these concerns, a Parenting Plan can help parents identify rights and responsibilities related to their children, and can be customized depending on the child’s age, the location of the parents, and other factors.
If you have children under the age of 18, your Parenting Plan can either be agreed to by you and the other parent or ordered by the court at a trial or final hearing. Because you know what works best for your family, it is almost always better if the parents can negotiate a Parenting Plan that suits the individual needs of the family. However, if the parents cannot agree, it is important to work with an experienced family attorney so that you can best present your “case” at trial and explain to the Court why the Parenting Plan you propose is best for your children.
The Parenting Plan will guide the parents and better enable them to co-parent, even though they are no longer together. In general, a Parenting Plan deals with two major issues, time-sharing and parental responsibility. A Parenting Plan can also include other terms and rules to prevent future conflict or confusion.
Time-Sharing and Visitation
The visitation (time-sharing) schedule included in the Parenting Plan describes, in great detail, where and how the children will be spending their time. Most Parenting Plans address issues related to the daily schedule of each child, holiday time-sharing, vacation time-sharing, as well as all of the communication and logistical details of visitation.
As of July 2023, there is now a rebuttable presumption that equal time-sharing is in the best interests of the children when creating a parenting plan. In order to overcome the presumption, a party must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that equal time-sharing is not in the “best interests” of the minor children. In determining the best interests, the Court will look to the factors listed in Fla. Stat. § 61.13.
Custody and Parental Responsibility
The Parenting Plan also includes information about who will make major decisions that affect the children. In certain cases, the decision making rights are shared by the parents, and in others, when one parent may be better equipped to make decisions solely, decision making is left to one parent. Of course, when decision making is shared, complications and disagreements may arise. As such, it is important to try to anticipate future issues and incorporate resolutions to those issues in the Parenting Plan. An experienced family law attorney can help you identify potential problems, understand what solutions may be best for your family, and address them in the Parenting Plan.
What Else Can a Parenting Plan Do?
The Parenting Plan may also address specific details beyond visitation (time-sharing) and custody (parental responsibility). For example, the Parenting Plan can be designed to accommodate a relocation or include specific travel logistics, so it is clear whose responsibility it is to coordinate necessary travel and pick up the children on any given day. Parenting Plans also include school and legal boundary designations, as well as travel restrictions or allowances. A Parenting Plan can also be “safety focused,” including safety restrictions, like third-party supervision, so that a child is able to safely enjoy visitation with a parent who may be experiencing addiction, anger management, or other serious issues.
A “Livable” Parenting Plan
It is important to make sure any Parenting Plan agreed to is “livable” for the parents and children. While the child’s best interests should always be the driving factor in making decisions about visitation and custody, it is important to make sure you are able to comply with the requirements and responsibilities set forth in the Parenting Plan. While it may be possible to modify the Parenting Plan down the road, you will need to prove certain elements for the Judge to even consider a change.
A well drafted Parenting Plan can provide the guidance you need to ensure that your children are accounted for, so the focus can be on the children’s health and wellness, instead of the details of the custody arrangement. An experienced divorce and family law attorney will take the time to learn about your children’s needs and help guide you in negotiating or advocating for the best Parenting Plan for your family.
Revised: Oct 2023