The most important relationships after a divorce or separation are the ones spouses and parents have with their children. Divorce and separation are hard enough on children. The last thing children need when their parents move apart is to be in the middle of a battle over who will spend time (time-sharing), raise them, and make decisions for them.
Florida doesn’t use the more traditional terms of custody and visitation. Instead, Florida requires that parents enter into parenting plans and time-sharing agreements. These plans and agreements generally control:
- Where the child lives each day of the year
- When the other parent can spend time with their child
- How transfers between the parents are arranged
- Which parents (often both) make decisions about the child’s education such as what school the child will attend, who has the authority to make medical decisions for the child, and what religion the child follows.
The core childcaring terms in cases of divorce and separation
Parental responsibility. This term applies to the authority to make major decisions about the child’s welfare and health. Either one or both parents can have parental responsibility.
Time-sharing refers to where the child will reside each day of the year and the schedule of contact (phone calls, time away from the residence, and other matters) the child has with the nonresident parent.
Parenting time. Instead of using the word visitation, Florida uses parenting time to emphasize the nonresident parent is still a parent and not just a visitor in the child’s life.
According to Florida law, a parenting plan should:
- Detail how the parents will share the daily duties associated with raising the child.
- The time-sharing schedule arrangements – that details the time the minor child spends with each parent.
- Designate who is responsible for the child’s health care including the authority to consent to physical and mental healthcare for the child. Often, both parents share this authority
- Many other parenting issues including how the child communicates with both parents, access to school records, and other issues.
General time-sharing principles
Family courts want the parents to reach an agreement as to time-sharing because they know their life situation and their children’s needs better than anyone else. Judges only get involved in time-sharing schedules as a last resort. Generally, courts favor that parenting schedules be as equal as possible.
What factors affect the time-sharing schedule?
Family judges will examine the following issues (which means the parents and their lawyers should examine these issues too):
- The willingness of each parent to foster a strong relationship for their child with the other parent
- The parent’s confirmation they will honor the time-sharing agreement
- The home environment and how much that environment provides stability for the child
- The physical, mental, and emotional health of the parents
- Whether the child has any special needs
- The ages of the children – especially whether they are preschool or school-age
- Children 12 and over may have preferences as to which children they want to live with
- The ability and willingness of each parent to help with the child’s schooling, friendships, and extra-school activities
- Other issues that affect the child’s best interests
What issues should be covered in a standard time-sharing agreement in Indian River County?
First, the parenting plans should detail the time-sharing agreement as much as possible. Any issue that is vague or unclear is an excuse for one parent not to comply with the agreement. Visual calendars help.The schedule should address:
- Each day of the year.
- The time of day transfers take place. For example, many times a child will stay with one parent from Friday 4 pm to Monday 8 am – when the child is going to school. The other parent will provide for the child from Monday 8 am to Friday 4 pm.
- How and where the exchange of the child will take place? What happens if a parent is late?
- When overnight visits during the week are allowed?
- When each parent has the child during specific vacation periods?
- Who has a minor child during Holidays? Each Holiday should be identified.
- Who has the child during birthdays?
- Who has the child during any special occasions?
What factors might affect standard time-sharing schedules?
The schedules generally are less standard if the parents live in different school districts because the child needs to attend only one school.
Nonstandard schedules are used if the parents live far apart. For example, if one parent moves to California, then the child may spend the school year with the Florida parent and part of the non-school year with the California parent.
If the children are of preschool age, then the schedules may change because someone has to be home with the child during the day.
In cases where one parent has substance abuse or other issues, the parenting plan may require more limited time with the nonresident parent, no time with the parent with substance issues problems, or some form of supervised time with the other parent. The same idea holds if the nonresident parent has other problems such as child neglect or child abuse issues.
Can the time-sharing agreements be modified?
Parents can always modify the agreement on their own. Modifications should be reviewed by legal counsel and placed in writing. If parents can’t agree, then the agreements may be modified if there is a significant change in circumstances.
A significant change could be:
- If one parent needs to move for work or for pleasure
- When a parent remarries
- If the child develops a special needs issue
Parents need to communicate with each other since there will often be problems such as a parent having to work late and illness.
Time-sharing schedules should also include time with grandparents and other family members.
What is makeup time?
There are sometimes good reasons why a child may not spend time with a parent based on the time-sharing agreement. For example, a parent may be ill.
There are also times when a parent isn’t cooperative and doesn’t comply with the time-sharing schedule.
Makeup time generally means that if a parent loses time he/she should have had with the other child, that the parent can have additional time during the year to make up for the lost time.
If the parents can’t agree to makeup time, the family court may order makeup time.
Our Family Law Attorneys serve Sebastian, Vero Beach, and all Indian River County spouses and parents. The law offices of Lulich Attorneys & Consultants help spouses and parents develop parenting plans and time-sharing schedules. Call for your Free Consultation today! Our law firm has a proven track record of helping resolve and litigate the legal issues that involve your children.
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