Florida Parenting Plans: Try Before You Buy

In the real world, when something is not working for our kids we change it.  If the soccer team has a bad coach, we gracefully switch teams or leagues.  If our child’s cheer-leading team is taking up too much family time, we make a change.  If a great babysitter has moved two hours away, we find a new babysitter.  If only things were so easy with Florida Parenting Plans click this site.  (Child Custody Orders).

Florida Custody Modifications Require a Substantial Change in Circumstance

Most parents are surprised that the “change it if it does not work” approach does not apply in court.  Consider these facts, from a recent Florida 5th District Court of Appeals case:

  1. The mother and father had agreed to a parenting plan, where they had “equal time sharing.”
  2. The driving distance between the parties house was approximately one hour.
  3. Mother petitioned to change the parenting plan,  primarily based on the driving distance between the parents.

Unlike, the “real world,” examples above, the court never reached the issue of whether the one hour dive was not working for the parents or the child.  That’s because under Florida law, to modify a parenting plan, a parent must prove that there has been “substantial change in circumstances” after the original parenting plan (custody order).  (The substantial change has to be unanticipated).  In this case, the Court found that the parents knew that there was a one hour drive between their houses at the time they entered their parenting plan.  So the one hour drive could not be considered a “substantial change.”  As a result, no change to the parenting plan was ordered.

The key point:  The Court in these circumstances never even gets to the question of whether the one hour drive was working for the parties and their child.  If you would like to read the entire case, I have provided the following link.

Blevins v. Blevins 5D14-3832 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015)

Florida Child Custody Law – Should Changes Be Made?

As a family law lawyer in Sarasota, Florida, I think the court of appeals got the case right “on the law.”  However, as a parent, I think children would benefit if Florida changed its modification statute.  Specifically, I think a new statute should allow for minor modifications to parenting plans, based on a lower standard of proof .   A Supreme Court Justice once stated that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. Likewise, parenting plans that do not work should changeable – even if the parents could have anticipated the problem at the time they agreed to the plan.

Try Before You Buy:  Make Sure Your Florida Parenting Plan Works Before You Agree

What does this mean to you as a divorcing parent?

  1. You should assume that your parenting plan will remain the same until your child turns 18. Do not assume that you can come back and change parts of the plan that are not working, after the fact.  (Unless you can show a substantial and unanticipated change in circumstances).
  2. It makes sense to try several temporary overnight schedules before entering a final parenting plan. A  week-on-week-off plan, might be better than a 2-2-3 plan, especially if your children are prone to forget their books, shoes, etc.  Or, you might find the opposite.  The key point is to “try before you buy.”
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