Restructuring the Family
In a divorce one of the most difficult hurdles for the couple to clear is determining the best arrangements for any children they have. Divorce requires restructuring the family, which can be disruptive and emotionally taxing to everyone involved.
Ideally, both parents will continue to cooperate and communicate long after the dissolution of the marriage. But before that can occur, they’ll need to develop a parenting plan they can all live with and, most importantly, is in the best interest of the children.
Equal Time-Sharing Is NOT Guaranteed
A common misconception is that both parents are entitled to “equal time-sharing” with children, but that’s not the case.
Florida law makes no such presumption. In fact it doesn’t reference 50/50 time-sharing at all. What it does say is that there should be “frequent time-sharing” with both parents. Here’s what Florida Statute 61.13 states:
“It is the public policy of this state 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 child rearing. There 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.”
What’s Best for the Child
Because equal time-sharing isn’t mandated, Florida family law judges have flexibility in deciding how parents will share responsibilities for their children going forward. Most judges will try to determine what is in the best interest of the children.
Even if a parent asks for equal time-sharing, the judge wants to be sure his or her motivation is not simply a ploy to reduce a child-support obligation.
In determining a parenting plan, the judge will consider numerous factors such as the plan’s geographic viability. Will the children, especially if they’re of school-age, have to spend too much time traveling between the parents? What are the parents’ work schedules? What is the mental and physical health of the parents? Were both parents equally involved in their children’s lives prior to the divorce? The answers to those questions can influence the judge’s decision.
Judges Have Flexibility in Custody Cases
An equal time-sharing request has a better chance of being approved by the judge if both parents live reasonably close to each other and the children’s school. Also both parents should be willing to stay in contact and be hands-on in terms of the children’s school, medical care and extra-curricular activities.
Because judges have latitude in deciding whether to approve a parenting plan, they’ll rely on the information and evidence provided to them. For that reason, you’ll want to work with an experienced family law attorney who understands the process and can present your case in a compelling way. The issue of parenting is too important to leave up to chance.
Scott Schlegel of Schlegel Law Group in Orlando, Florida can answer your questions and provide guidance on developing a parenting plan. He works with both traditional and same-sex couples.