Since 2008, the Florida Statutes have used the term “time sharing” instead of visitation. Also, the term “custody” is no longer used. A Parenting Plan is a document that lays out a time-sharing schedule for the parents. This document details the amount of time that each parent will spend with their child.
A Parenting Plan is required in all paternity cases and in every divorce case involving children.
Prior to 2008, it was very common for there to be only 1-2 pages about visitation in a Final Judgment. Often there were only a few sentences. For some couples, this was enough – they did not need very specific language to govern their relationship with each other and their child. However, enough couples found these types of Final Judgments to vague and found themselves back in Court asking a judge to resolve their dispute.
The Florida legislature’s response to this was the implementation of the lengthy Parenting Plan. Typically, a Parenting Plan is 15-18 pages. The reason for this larger document is to set out the responsibilities of each parent in order to reduce future litigation.
In a Parenting Plan, a child’s time is divided into these general time periods:
- School year (based on the child’s school calendar or, when not yet in school, the local public school calendar)
- Christmas/Winter Break
- Spring Break
- Various other holidays (4th of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Halloween, etc.)
The contents of a Parenting Plan also address other issues, such as:
- Time table in which to notify the other parent of out-of-state or international travel
- Choice of which parent (or both) make decisions about a child’s education, health care, and discipline
- How the parents communicate with the child when they are not together (e.g. FaceTime, text message, phone, Skype, etc.)
- What methods of communication the parents use to discuss the time sharing (text, email, phone, etc.)
An important clause in all Parenting Plan is the one that states that the time-sharing schedule contained in the Parenting Plan is the MINIMUM amount of time that the minority time sharing parent can spend with the child. The minority time sharing parent is allowed to ask for additional time with their child and the majority time sharing parent is supposed to grant those requests unless the request conflicts with the child’s prior preplanned activities.
It is also important to mention that the time-sharing schedule in a Parenting Plan is not rigid and inflexible. You are allowed to deviate from the time-sharing schedule so long as both parties agree to the deviation. Any deviation from the time-sharing schedule only lasts as long as the agreement does.
When negotiating a time-sharing schedule, you need to pay careful attention to the total number of nights that the child will spend with each parent. This is important because the number of night spent with each parent is a component of the child support calculation. Each night in excess of 20% of the total nights in a year (i.e. 73 nights) will slightly reduce a child support obligation. Over the last few years, it has become increasingly common for the minority parent to have more than 73 nights with their child per year.
Another change brought about by recent legislation is the elimination of the terms “sole custody” and “joint custody.” Now, a judge will make a determination about “parental responsibility.” Every family law case involving children will have a determination about whether there will be “shared parental responsibility” or “sole parental responsibility.”
Parental responsibility simple refers to who makes the decisions (education, religious, medical, etc.) regarding the child and (usually) has no separate impact on how much time either parent spends with the child. Generally, a court only gives a parent sole parental responsibility when the other parent is incarcerated or has other criminal or addiction issues.
Being unable to agree on a time-sharing schedule is one of the major reasons that cases become contested and lead to a trail. As a result, arguing over a time-sharing schedule can greatly increase the cost and duration of your case. For these reasons, you should contact an experienced Florida time-sharing lawyer to explain your options to you.