Avoiding Parenting Plan Pitfalls

Florida courts have changed the court's look at how divorced parents will co-parent their children. No longer is a parent classified as the "custodial parent," non-custodial parent," "primary residential parent," or "secondary residential parent." Instead the Florida legislature in 2008 enacted state law that requires parents and courts to develop a parenting plan that is a guideline to parents when the child will spend time with each parent, where the child will live and how parental responsibility shall be shared. A parenting plan is most effective when used as a guideline when the parents cannot agree.

Parenting Plans

In Florida, the Supreme Court developed a basic parenting plan that covers all aspects of co-parenting. The main areas cover regular time-sharing, school breaks, vacations and holidays.

Regular time sharing can be any routine that best fits that particular family. Therefore, there are many variations to a time sharing schedule. Things to take in consideration are parents work schedules, cost of child care, children's needs and schedules. The most common time sharing schedule is the child has visitation with the other parent every other weekend and one overnight midweek. Some families split time sharing with the child so that the child spends an equal amount of time with both parents. This is especially recommended when the parties live close to each other or both parents live close to the school the child attends.

Vacations. To avoid conflicts between parents it is best to provide a guideline or parenting plan that will describe how the parties shall spend time with the children on vacations and school breaks. This includes spring break, summer break, and long weekends. Generally, the parties can agree to alternate the entire spring break and summer break or share them equally with each other. Depending on the family some long weekends might be more important than others. For example, I had a client who came from a long line of veterans. My client was willing to trade the spring break for every extended weekend for every Veterans Day, Memorial Day, 4 th of July, and yearly family reunion in Atlanta, Georgia. As you can see, every parenting plan is different just as is every family.

Summer vacation can also be a potential for conflict without a parenting plan. The parents can agree on how they wish to share the summer with their children. Some families go out of country for vacation.

Thanksgiving, Holidays And Special Occasions

The best parenting plan will look at the holidays and special occasions to be observed as the children get older, including how these events will be shared between the parents, then compare those events back to the current ages of the children, keeping the continuity of the long-term plan.

Other considerations in a parenting plan are how parental responsibility will be allocated. Shared parental responsibility is the most common agreement. Shared responsibility is that both parents will have equal say as to the welfare, medical needs, educational decisions, and major decision making concerning the children. Sometimes sole parental responsibility or sole decision making authority is in the best interest of the children when domestic violence is involved, when the other parent travels a lot for work, or lives a majority of the time out of state or the country.

In all parenting plans there are provisions regarding access to records about the children (medical, educational, government); health care notification; school emergency contact notification, transportation for visitation, and notification of parent's current address and contact information.

Traveling with children is also an important topic that any parenting plan should include. Generally a clause will include that the other parent must provide notice to the non-traveling parent and a detailed itinerary before traveling with the child.

Relocation. Florida statutes govern what are the requirements when a parent desires to move more than 50 miles and 60 consecutive days from the residence at the time the parenting plan is ordered. A parent may be held in contempt of court if they relocate without the other parent's written permission or an order of the court.

Child care. Depending on the age of the children this may not be important. However, with young children it is a consideration as to if the children can be left alone or the requirements of choosing a child care provider. This is called the right of first refusal. In the event either parent requires child care for (a specific number) hours or more while the children are in his or her custody, the other parent must be given first opportunity.

Log book. More and more the courts are utilizing "parenting notebooks," to facilitate amicable and friendly communications between parents. The parents will maintain a "notebook" and make sure that the book is sent with the children between their two homes. Using businesslike notes (no personal comments), parents will record information related to the health, education, and welfare issues that arise during the time the children are with them.

Using the Internet. I advise my clients to open an email account wherein they only communicate with the other parent concerning visitation schedule changes, doctor visits, school events, medications for the children, etc. This is especially helpful in the beginning when communications between the parents can be acrimonious (unfriendly). Another benefit to an email account is that the calendar can be used to post important events for the child that includes date, time, place and cost.

Parenting Plan Shall Be Ratified And Made An Order Of Court

Once a parenting plan is entered as a court order, then it can be enforced just like any other order. If you are found to have violated the parenting plan by a judge then you may be subject to civil or criminal penalties, or both. At the Marin Law Firm, P.A. we can negotiate specialized provisions as unique as your family.