Formulating a Parenting Plan for Child Custody
Couples, with children, who divorce or separate often make a greater effort to fix their relationship because they realize how difficult it is for children to deal with broken homes. However, once the decision to divorce is made, the complicated process of figuring out child custody arrangements begins. In Florida, how parents will share decision-making authority and caregiving is laid out in the parenting plan and time-sharing schedule. Courts tend to push parties with children to formulate their own parenting plans and schedules because they are best equipped to know what the child needs, and where to incorporate flexibility to account for the logistics of exchanging the child between households. However, if the parties cannot agree, the court will decide how to arrange child custody for them. The State favors granting parents shared responsibility for a child to promote frequent and continuing contact with both parties, and does not favor either parent when evaluating an appropriate time-sharing schedule. In order to protect the best interests of the child, the overarching concern with any child-related issue, the court must review and approve all parenting plans and time-sharing schedules before they become enforceable. A discussion of how courts evaluate what is in the child’s best interests, and when a court would consider awarding one parent primary or sole responsibility for a child, will follow below.
Best Interests of the Child
Evaluating the best interests of a child is done on a case-by-case basis that looks at the child’s overall welfare and the circumstances of a particular family. Florida law directs courts to make this evaluation by using a number of factors, including:
- the ability of each parent to support the child’s relationship with the other parent, follow the time-schedule, and be reasonable when changes are necessary;
- how often parental responsibilities would be delegated to a third party, e., how much time a child would spend with a babysitter or other caregiver;
- the ability and willingness of each parent to put the needs of the child first;
- how long a child has lived in a stable environment and the desire to continue that arrangement;
- the feasibility of the time-sharing schedule, especially for school-aged children;
- the ability of each parent to provide a consistent schedule for the child;
- the ability of each parent to communicate with and update the other parent on the child;
- the mental physical health of each parent; and
- the child’s preference, if the court finds him/her to be of sufficient age and maturity.
When Courts Will Consider Diverting from Shared Responsibility
Parental responsibilities are broken into two categories – decision-making and parenting time, and a court can give a greater amount of decision-making and/or parenting time to one parent, or divide them equally. Decision-making encompasses issues such as which school to attend, when to seek medical treatment, and participation in extracurricular activities. As noted above, courts start from the premise that parents should share responsibility for a child, and compelling evidence must be presented to counter that presumption. Further, even if there are substantial concerns about a parent’s ability to adequately care for a child, courts are loathe to completely deny all contact, and are more likely to order the presence of a third party when the parent exercises his/her parenting time. In order for a court to consider limiting a parent’s authority, the other party must show shared responsibility would be detrimental to the child. Examples of situations that could rise to this level include:
- convictions for domestic abuse;
- a history of substance abuse; and
- evidence showing child abuse, neglect or abandonment.
Contact an Orlando Family Lawyer
Child custody issues are sensitive issues that require the attention of a dedicated and compassionate family law attorney. The Donna Hung Law Group in Orlando works with their clients to obtain a solution that will work for their family without the need to engage in expensive and drawn-out litigation. Contact the office at (407) 999-0099 for a confidential consultation.