If a divorcing couple shares a minor child, Florida law requires that the Court enter a Parenting Plan, detailing the responsibilities and arrangements for the child. A Parenting Plan will explain how major decisions and day-to-day decisions are made for the child, when and how the child’s time will be spent with each parent, and how the parents will communicate regarding the child.
A couple may enter into an agreed upon Parenting Plan prior to attending trial. However, if the couple cannot reach an agreement, the Court will determine the terms of the Parenting Plan. If the Court must make the decision regarding the Parenting Plan, it will look to the best interest of the child in making its decision. The Court will look to certain factors laid out in Florida Statute 61.13 to determine what is the best interest of the child. These factors include:
- 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 anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties.
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.
- The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
- The geographic viability of the parenting plan, with special attention paid to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the parenting plan. This factor does not create a presumption for or against relocation of either parent with a child.
- The moral fitness of the parents. The mental and physical health of the parents. The home, school, and community record of the child.
The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.
- The demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the circumstances of the minor child, including, but not limited to, the child’s friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things.
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime.
- The demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of issues and activities regarding the minor child, and the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child.
- Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought. If the court accepts evidence of prior or pending actions regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, the court must specifically acknowledge in writing that such evidence was considered when evaluating the best interests of the child.
- Evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any prior or pending action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.
- The particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the institution of litigation and during the pending litigation, including the extent to which parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties.
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities.
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse.
- The capacity and disposition of each parent to protect the child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child.
- The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child’s developmental needs.
Acting in the interest of the child in cases where the parents appear to be pulling the child in different directions, a Judge will usually lean toward the parent most likely to grant the child easy access to the other parent. A good family law attorney will help the client navigate emotions and court guidelines to arrive at a workable solution to meet all the child’s needs.