Negotiating custody arrangements with an ex-spouse is generally not a pleasant experience, but it is a necessary and crucial part of any divorce or other child custody determinations. Most parents follow the arrangements worked out during mediation or with a judge, but unfortunately, there are instances of parents violating custody orders that deprive the other parent from visitation with a child. A recent news story in the Sun Sentinel reported on a woman from the Miami area arrested on charges of parental kidnapping. She allegedly took her daughter in May 2014 to Palatka to prevent the child from receiving vaccinations. Courts want to avoid these situations for sake of everyone involved, but especially for the children. All divorce decrees that involve children belonging to both spouses must include a parenting plan that sets out how much time each parent can spend with the child and who is responsible for making decisions related to issues like health, education and religion. To help parents grappling with child custody arrangements know what to expect, an outline of the components included in a parenting plan and third party intermediaries used by courts to settle custody disputes will be discussed below.Parenting Plans
The default in Florida is to order shared custody between both parents, and courts will only deviate from this standard if shared custody is not in the best interest of the child. Assuming shared custody is applicable, the parents must then submit a parenting plan to the court setting forth how they will divide responsibilities for the child. Florida law requires certain items be included in all parenting plans. Those items include:
- a substantial description of which parent is responsible for tasks related to the upbringing of the child;
- a visitation schedule outlining the time periods when each parent will have physical custody;
- a listing of which parent is responsible for medical, education and any other activity decisions for the child; and
- how each parent plans to communicate with the child.
Courts may take the preferences of the parents into account when determining if one or both should have ultimate decision power over particular aspects of a child’s life. All parenting plans will be adopted to the extent it is in the best interest of the child, but both parents have full rights to the child’s medical, dental and school records unless specifically revoked by a court. When courts decide what type of parenting plan and time-sharing arrangement is in the best interest of the child, they take into account the welfare and interests of the child and the unique circumstances of the family using a large number of factors. A few of the factors used by courts include:
- the ability of each parent to foster a healthy parent/child relationship, abide by time-sharing arrangements, and be flexible when necessary;
- the ability of each parent to act for the needs of the child and not their own; and
- how long the child lived a healthy, stable environment, and whether the child should continue in that environment.
If the parents are unable to reach a consensus on a parenting plan, or if there a dispute on any aspect of a current parenting plan, the court or the parties may request the involvement of a parenting coordinator. A parenting coordinator is an unbiased third party who assists parents with creating and implementing a plan through education, recommendations and limited decision-making power. All communications with the parenting coordinator are completely confidential, and the coordinator is not permitted to testify about communications with the parties, except in limited circumstances related to things like compliance with the order referring the parents to parenting coordination, the ability or willingness of the coordinator to work with the parents, and any information related to possible violence against the parties or the child.Find an Attorney
If you are getting divorced and need to draft a parenting plan in cooperation with your soon-to-be ex-spouse but have questions or concerns about the process, consultation with an experienced attorney is the best way to learn about your rights and your child’s rights. Stok Kon + Braverman, serving clients in the Fort Lauderdale and Boynton Beach areas, offer a full range of legal representation in divorce matters. Contact us today for a confidential consultation.