What Is A Florida Parenting Plan?

Any Florida parent who is going through a divorce with children or otherwise dealing with child custody issues will need to have a parenting plan.  A parenting plan is document that is either agreed upon by the parents or created by a judge that sets out each parents’ rights and responsibilities.  The Sixth Judicial Circuit (Pinellas and Pasco Counties) further describes a parenting plan as follows:

It is the public policy of this state to assure that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing. Florida Statutes, section 61.13(2)(c).

A parenting plan is a document developed and agreed to by the parents of a minor child, and approved by the court, or if the parents cannot agree, established by the court, which governs the relationship between the parents regarding the child (encompassing “custody”, “parental responsibility”, and “visitation”). A parenting plan may address issues such as the child’s education, health care, and physical, social, and emotional well-being, and must include a time-sharing schedule. The parenting plan must take into account the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, and the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction when addressing jurisdictional issues.

For purposes of establishing or modifying parental responsibility and creating, developing, approving, or modifying a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, which governs each parent’s relationship with his or her minor child and the relationship between each parent with regard to his or her minor child, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.

Any parenting plan approved by a court must address the following issues:

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Florida Divorce and Fathers’ Child Custody Rights

Many people believe that, in Florida divorces, there is a legal presumption that mothers should get majority time-sharing (formerly known as primary custody) with the parties’ children.  This is simply not the case, as judges fashion Florida time-sharing schedules based solely on the best interests of the children, regardless of the gender of the parents.

Florida Statutes Section 61.13(2)(c)1 states specifically that “[t]here is no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule when creating or modifying the parenting plan of the child.”

So what factors do judges look at to determine children’s best interests when shaping time-sharing schedules?

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Tampa Collaborative Divorce: A More Child-Friendly Divorce

The fact is that divorce is difficult.  Emotions are raw, family life is uprooted, and life becomes strained.

And children are caught in the middle.

Attorneys in Tampa Bay litigated cases are often obligated to not only focus on showing their clients in the most positive light but also shining the spotlight on the opposing parties’ parental flaws. This further frays relationships with consequences to the children.

But there is an alternative.  Collaborative divorce is a process where the clients agree not to air their dirty laundry in the court system but instead to negotiate respectfully in private offices of attorneys and other professionals.  A neutral facilitator, who usually is a licensed mental health professional, is utilized to ensure that the clients focus on the future and on what is most important:  the children.

I recently found a Chicago Tribune article which discusses collaborative divorce and it’s focus on children:

If you’ve gone through a divorce, you know how challenging it can be to keep your emotions in check. Add children to the mix and the damage can be devastating. But experts say more divorcing couples are seeing the benefits of putting down the boxing gloves and placing their children’s needs first.

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Treatment of Children in Hillsborough County Family Law Cases

When a person files for divorce (or other family law action involving children) in Tampa, he or she will be provided with a temporary standing order which outlines how he or she should treat children during the matter.  The temporary standing order provides the following guidance:

The safety, financial security, and well being of the children involved in this case are the judge’s primary concern. It is the law that, except in certain rare circumstances, both parents will share parental responsibility for all minor children involved in this case. The law requires parents to share the children’s time and to participate together in making all important decisions concerning the children. The law expects parents to put aside their feelings and cooperate on all decisions involving the children. The following guidelines apply:

A. Children have a right to a loving, open and continuing relationship with both parents. They have the right to express love, affection and respect for one parent in the presence of the other parent.

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In A Florida Child Custody Case, Does It Matter That I Am Gay?

I have been seeing more clients who are coming out of the closet either during or following their divorce (or during a child custody case not related to divorce). Each client has asked whether the Florida court is going to take into consideration his or her sexual orientation.

Though, in determining child custody matters, a Florida judge must take into consideration the “moral fitness” of the parents (see Florida Statutes Section 61.13(3)(f)), the court may not make a custody determination based solely on whether a parent is gay. In fact, a parent’s sexual orientation should not be a determining factor unless it has a direct negative impact on the welfare of the child.

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Disparaging The Other Parent Hurts Your Child And Your Florida Child Custody Case

Rosalind Sedacca, a divorce and parenting coach and author, writes about why parents should not bash one another in front of their children:

When you put down their other parent, your children are likely to interpret it as a put-down of part of them. When both parents are guilty of this behavior, it can create a great confusion along with a sense of unworthiness and low self-esteem. “Something’s wrong with me” becomes the child’s unconscious belief.

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Helping Teens Cope With Divorce

I came across a great article at the Divorce Saloon concerning how parents with teenagers can help their children deal with divorce.  Towards the bottom of the article the author, Brenda Monteau, provides these five tips:

1) Set boundaries. Just because you are divorced doesn’t mean that you allow your teen to do whatever he or she wants. Don’t let your guilt of “breaking up the family” get in the way of parenting. Just because teens are older than younger kids doesn’t mean they don’t need boundaries, or that they don’t need their parents to act like parents.

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Garon: 8 Tips for Co-Parenting During the Holidays

Winter break can be one of the most difficult times for both children and parents to cope with divorce.  We see Christmas and New Years cheer and celebration everywhere as we are dealing with our own internal and external stressors that make the mere sight of such images so painful.  However, we must dedicate all of our strength to keep this period of time as happy and stable as possible for our children.

Risa Garon, a licensed clinical social worker, collaborative law mental health professional, and Executive Director of the National Family Resiliency Center, Inc., provides tips for co-parenting during the holidays:

  1. What can you as a parent handle? Be honest with yourself and how you feel.
  2. Be honest with your children about your limitations and what you can handle. Approach them in a way that doesn’t burden them with your feelings. Ask them what would help them during the holidays.
  3. Recognize that rituals are symbolic and often treasured by children and adults. If possible, try to have some of your family’s traditional rituals and include your children in creating new ones. Read more

How Do I Discuss My Divorce With My Child?

Once a couple makes the decision to separate or divorce, one of the most difficult steps will be to discuss this decision with a child.  Risa Garon, a licensed clinical social worker, certified mediator, and Executive Director of the National Family Resiliency Center, Inc., provides the following advice regarding how to discuss an impending separation or divorce with a child:

1. Before you tell the children, speak to your spouse and decide what you will tell the children. Both parents should have the opportunity to speak.

2. Say what you think will be most helpful to them. Many parents want to tell exactly what happened in their adult relationship to their children. Parents can explain to their children how what they want to tell them will help them in understanding the separation.

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Special Needs Children and Divorce

California family law attorney Lisa Helfend Meyer recently discussed particular issues that arise in divorce cases involving special needs children:

A parenting plan for the typical child may not be appropriate for an autistic child or one with other developmental issues. For example, it’s not unusual for the typical 3 year-old child to be able to have overnight stays with the non-custodial parent. She can understand the concept of time and that she will see her other parent again. The special-needs child often has difficulty with transitions, she is comforted by the familiar and doesn’t like changes in environment. Likewise, she may not be unable to express herself verbally nor to understand abstract concepts like time. Custody and visitation decisions for a special-needs child must take into account many issues like these.

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