Florida Child Custody and Support; Florida Parenting Plans

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It is the public policy of Florida to ensure that each minor child has a frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or divorced.  In Florida there is a presumption that parents should be with their children, parents should share time with the child and parental responsibilities and both should be entitled to the full joys of child-rearing. Florida courts give both parties the same consideration in determining parental responsibility and time-sharing, regardless of the child’s age or gender. Shared parenting requires parents to interact so that major decisions affecting the child can be determined jointly.

In the hopes of ensuring that the parents will follow through and work together in the best interest of the child, the court will order and require a “Parenting Plan.”  The parenting plan will include a plan agreed to by the parents as to the time each parent will spend with the child, child support, plans for additional child expenses, plan of responsibility for the child, plan for communication with the child and most importantly a “Friendly Parenting Provision.”  The Florida court has the power to accept reject or modify the plan submitted to the court. Parenting Plans are required and created to commit to writing the fair expectations of the parties and to avoid conflicts in the future.

The parenting plan governs the relationship between the parents relating to decisions that must be made regarding the child. Parents need to cooperate to arrive at a consensus about how the children will be raised and how each parent will participate in the child’s upbringing.  The court wants to see a friendly parent provision. A friendly parent provision means a demonstrated capacity and disposition by each parent to facilitate and encourage a continuing parent-child relationship, honor timeshare, and to be reasonable when changes are required. The plan must describe parental responsibility for the daily decisions associated with the upbringing of the child, time share schedule (specifying the time, including number of overnights and holidays, that a minor child will spend with each parent), health care plan for the child, school related matters, and other child entertainment and activities, and methods and technologies that the parents will use to communicate with the child.

Parental Responsibility        

Parental responsibility is the decision making component of the parenting plan. In Florida the standard for determining parental responsibility is “the Best Interest of the Child.” There is a presumption that parents should share in the decision making responsibilities of their children.  Therefore, a Florida court must order shared responsibility unless it would be detrimental to the child. Shared parental responsibility means that both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities with respect to the child and must discuss major decisions in the life of the child such as health care, religious upbringing, and education. Under Florida law it is presumed that neither parent has superior claim when determining rights and responsibilities. However, if shared responsibility would be detrimental to the child, the court may order sole parental responsibility. The court may also divide parental responsibilities into “sectors” based on the best interests of the child.

Ultimate parental responsibility over a specific area of the child’s life may be granted by the court exclusively to one parent if such a decision is in the best interest of the child. Areas of responsibility may include education, health care or any other responsibilities that the court finds uniquely suited to a particular parent.  For example, in the case of a child of a doctor and a college professor, the doctor may have ultimate parental responsibility for the healthcare of the child, while the professor has ultimate control over the education of the child.

Parallel parenting responsibility occurs when the court divides ultimate responsibilities between the parents.

Sole parental responsibility occurs when one parent has legal responsibility for all decisions of the child. Sole Parental Responsibility will be ordered if a parent rebuts the presumption that it is in the best interest of the child for the other parent to have legal responsibility for the child.  If the court determines that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child, the court may order sole parental responsibility.

Time Share

Time share refers to time the child is in the physical presence with each respective parent. Before 2008 time share was known as “Physical Custody.”  Time share plays a role in the amount a parent pays in child support. If an approved parenting plan calls for a parent to spend more than 20% of overnights per year with the child, the parent receives a proportional offset against paying child support to the other parent.

Communications Utilized to Communicate with the Parent

On Oct. 1, 2007, the parent-child electronic communications statute came into effect which authorizes courts to order electronic forms of communication such as telephone, webcams, and e-mail to serve as a supplemental form of time-sharing and parenting time.

Friendly Parent Provision

Courts generally consider the friendly parenting provision the most important aspect of the parenting plan.  The friendly parenting plan is the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.

The parenting plan must additionally address the child’s healthcare, school related matters and other activities such as entertainment activities.

You and your spouse may agree on a parenting plan, or the court may order a parenting plan. However, courts can not order time spent with the child.  Other than time-share, the court will determine any or all of these matters if the parties cannot agree.

Florida law requires both parties to attend a parenting course before entering a final dissolution of marriage. Some courts require children of parents going through dissolution of marriage to attend a class specifically designed for them. Information on courses offered may be found at the county clerk’s office or our Florida child custody lawyers and Florida family lawyers can you with the information.

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