Under Florida law, parents undertaking child custody proceedings are no longer designated as custodial or non-custodial parents, but instead must create a detailed parenting plan that is used as a guideline to govern when a child will spend time with each parent, how much time they will spend with each parent, where they will live, and how parental responsibility will be shared. This parenting plan can be used when concerns or disputes over custody arise, and is meant to assist parents in avoiding drawn-out court proceedings. Once a parenting plan is negotiated and agreed to by parents, it is submitted to the court as a part of custody or divorce proceedings and, once ratified, becomes an official order of the Florida courts. If a parent subsequently fails to follow the agreed upon instructions of the plan, he or she may be held civilly or criminally liable for such violations, and may be subject to court penalties.
Florida law strongly encourages parents to develop their parenting plan through negotiation, and has provided for parenting coordination to facilitate this process where needed. However, if parents are absolutely unable to reach a parenting plan agreement, the Florida courts have the power to impose a parenting plan on the couple, with or without their approval.
The Basics of a Parenting Plan
The Florida Supreme Court has provided guidelines and a basic form to assist parents in ensuring that all aspects of co-parenting are covered in a parenting plan. The fundamental issues that a parenting plan must cover include:
- Regular time-sharing
- School Breaks and Holidays
- Parental Responsibility
Regular time-sharing covers the weekly schedule for a child and how time will be distributed between parents. This can include splitting time equally between both parents, or another type of arrangement, such as spending weekdays with one parent and the weekends with another. Factors to be considered in determining regular time-sharing include the work schedules of the parents, childcare costs, the location of a child’s school, and other needs the child might have. Parents are also encouraged to define time-sharing for vacations, such as summer break and school holidays, in order to avoid conflict in the future. In many circumstances, if one parent wishes to travel with the child during a vacation or holiday, the other parent must be notified in advance.
Finally, a parenting plan is also used to help parents define their responsibilities for the child, including how major decisions regarding a child will be made, and who will be primarily responsible for the child’s medical and/or educational welfare. This may also include negotiations about access to medical records and emergency contact notification.