Child Custody Basics for Sarasota Family Law Cases
Child custody is determined by a Parenting Plan in Sarasota divorce and paternity cases. In other words, the term for child custody in Florida is a Parenting Plan.
I often have folks tell me that they want “custody” or “full custody” of their child. These terms really do not have meaning within the context of a Florida Parenting Plan. Here’s why:
1. In the olden days child custody usually meant “legal custody,” which gave a parent decision making authority for major decisions concerning the child. For example: health, education, or religion. This concept of “legal custody” is now resolved through the “Parental Responsibility and Decision Making” section of a Parenting Plan. In most cases, a Parenting Plan will provide “Shared Parental Responsibility,” with “joint” decision making. (There are exceptions for parents with problems as discussed below).
2. The term “physical custody” used to describe the parent who spent the most time with the child, under the terms of a court order. No longer. Physical child custody is now handled through the “Time-Sharing Schedule” of a Parenting Plan. The Time-Sharing Schedule determines what days the child will be with be with each parent. According to the statute governing Time-Sharing, “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 childrearing.” What this means, is that the old “every-other-weekend with dad” schedule is usually not appropriate. In the absence of problems, both parents should be able to request significant time with their children after the parents separate.
3. What about child custody situations where one parent has significant impairments, such as a history of domestic violence, drug abuse, or disorders that prevent a parent from safely parenting his or her child? Florida law allows the court to consider these type of problems when ordering a Parenting Plan. For example, the court may eliminate joint Shared Parental Responsibility, and may place controls, such as supervised visitation, on a problem parent’s time with a child.
Child Custody Links
I have provided the following links that may be helpful for further research about child custody in Florida, and Florida Parenting Plans:
Child Custody Litigation
It is always best if parents are able to come up with an agreed Parenting Plan. It is very expensive to litigate custody issues, and there is high emotional cost for both the parents and the children. It is almost always best for the children if their parents remain cooperative. However, in some cases litigation is necessary. When it is, the Court will consider the best interest of the child in developing a Parenting Plan, and will consider the following factors:
When You Need More Help
The Florida statute that authorizes parenting coordination states that parenting coordination “is to provide a child-focused alternative dispute resolution process whereby a parenting coordinator assists the parents in creating or implementing a parenting plan by facilitating the resolution of disputes between the parents by providing education, making recommendations, and, with the prior approval of the parents and the court, making limited decisions within the scope of the court’s order of referral.”
Unfortunately, like most statutes, the wording sounds like gobbledygook to non-lawyers. I think the best way to understand the purpose of parenting coordination is to describe how it works.
1. Parenting coordination enables parents to work with a neutral third party to come up with a parenting plan that both parents agree to. A parenting coordinator cannot force a parent to agree to a permanent parenting plan.
2. Parenting coordinators are experienced mental health professionals or attorneys, who are experienced in helping parents develop parenting plans that work in the real world.
3. The process is child focused, and the parenting coordinator is neutral. So, hopefully the type of “position bargaining” that can occur in hard edged negotiating can be eliminated. In other words “tit for tat” bargaining may be avoided, and instead the focus can be on what is best for the child, and what works best for the parents.
4. I have found that parenting coordination works best when you have two decent parents, who for whatever reason, really dislike each other. That scenario can be a litigation money pit for the parents, that never ends, and is toxic to the child. A good parenting coordinator can get the parents headed in the right direction, communicating regarding the child, and turning the focus from the parents dislike of each other to what is best for the child.
5. One “power” you can agree to give a parenting coordinator is limited decision making. Agreeing to provide the parenting coordinator with this power, can decrease conflict between the parties, and can dramatically reduce attorney fees in high conflict cases. For example, in a high conflict case, a change in a parent’s works schedule might make parts of a parenting plan impossible to follow. Rather than immediately litigate this problem, a parenting coordinator could be empowered to make limited decisions taking into account the changes works schedule. (You can always got to court and request a judicial review of the parenting coordinators decision).
6. Parenting coordination does not go on forever. The longest “term” that a parenting coordinator can be appointed for is two years. The idea is that at some point the training wheels need to come off and the parenting need to move on from their conflict, and cooperative parent their child.
7. The one warning I would make in regard to parenting coordination is that you are “inviting” a third party into the process. Because this invitation takes the form of a court order it is very difficult to “uninvite” a parenting coordinator once he or she has been appointed by the court. So, “know thyself.” Some folks have a hard time in a setting that places a high premium on verbal communication and cooperation skills. That being said, if you can focus on the best interest of your child, parenting coordination can be an excellent option.
If you would like to learn more about parenting coordination, I have provided the following links: