If you have minor children, before your divorce is final, you and your spouse will create a Parenting Plan. This Parenting Plan will outline the details of how you will make decisions that affect your children as well as how you will divide time with and responsibility for your children. Your Parenting Plan will become part of your Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA). By designing a customized Parenting Plan you and your co-parent will have a guide and a back-up plan in case there is a disagreement in the future. Of course, as long as you and your spouse agree you can do almost anything that works for you both. However, in the event of a future disagreement your Parenting Plan will determine your actions.
Currently, there are three Florida Supreme Court approved Parenting Plan forms:
- a Standard Parenting Plan,
- a Supervised/Safety-Focused Parenting Plan, and
- a Relocation/Long Distance Parenting Plan.
Additionally, some judicial circuits have their own approved Parenting Plans. Your mediator will be able to select the right Parenting Plan for you. You can find the Parenting Plans (12.995 Forms A-C) which has been approved by the Florida Supreme Court at http://www.flcourts.org/gen_public/family/forms_rules/index.shtml.
In Florida we no longer use the terms “child custody,” “residential parent,” or “visitation.” Instead, the Florida legislature and the judiciary support the concept of shared parental responsibility, a court-ordered co-parent relationship outlined in Chapter 61. Under shared parental responsibility both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities and they are ordered to confer and jointly make all major decisions affecting the welfare of their children. (However, parents may decide that one parent will be responsible for certain aspects of the child’s life, such as education, religion, or health.) Parents sharing parental responsibility are both entitled to access their child’s medical, dental, and school records and information.
If parents agree, or if the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to a child, sole parental responsibility could be ordered. That would mean that one of the parents has unilateral decision-making authority for the child. Your mediator will discuss parental responsibility with you.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer for time-sharing. Each family should consider their unique circumstances and create a plan that works best for them. But, keep in mind that the plan that works for you today may not be best your circumstances change and your children grow and mature.
In order to prevent future disputes and scheduling conflicts your parenting plan should address weekday time-sharing, weekend time-sharing, holiday time-sharing, and vacation time-sharing. Your mediator will use precise start and end times in your time-sharing plan so that you can avoid future disputes. (Example – mother’s time ends at school drop off or 8am if not in school and father’s time begins at school drop off or 8am if not in school. This way you will be clear which parent will have to take off from work to care for a sick child.) (Example – it’s not enough to say weekend. Instead you will clearly spell out when a weekend begins and when it ends.)
Some parents choose a rotating schedule that has their child living equal times (or close to equal) with each parent. This may mean that the child rotates between the parents every 2-3 days, every week, two weeks, month, quarter, or year. Alternatively, you may also choose a schedule that has your child living with one parent during the week and the other parent on weekends and school vacations. Often parents take turns, alternating weekends and holidays (earmarking holidays for odd years (2015, 2017) and even years (2014, 2016). In order to help you arrive at the most appropriate time-sharing schedule for your family, your mediator will encourage you to consider your child’s needs, your work schedules, and your family’s special circumstances.
The issue of Geographic Relocation is frequently raised during and after divorce. Your mediator will address this issue with you when you create your Parenting Plan so that you and your co-parent can decide which restrictions should apply in your case..
Section 61.13001 of the Florida Statutes addresses relocation. http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0000-0099/0061/Sections/0061.13001.html. If this is an issue in your divorce you may want to read this section.
If the issue of relocation arises subsequent to divorce, with one parent wanting to relocate with the children, the other parent may turn to the courts in an attempt to stop the move. Often, a skilled mediator can help a family find a creative solution to their relocation dilemma and enable the parents to avoid a legal battle.