The Florida Statutes no longer use the terms “child custody” and “visitation”. As of October 1, 2008, the law replaced the term “visitation” with “time sharing.” A time sharing schedule (a Parenting Plan) sets out the time that each parent will spend with their child.
Under the prior law, the visitation and custody provision of a final judgment would only take up a few pages in the average final judgment. Those subjects are now addressed in a document called a Parenting Plan under the current law and is about 15 pages. The purpose of the larger document is to more specifically set out each parties responsibilities so as to minimize future litigation.
In general, the child’s time is divided into the following periods:
- Normal school year,
- Winter/Christmas Break
- Spring Break
- Summer Break
- Other holidays (Thanksgiving, 4th of July, Memorial Day, Halloween,….)
The following are some of the additional issues discussed in a Parenting Plan:
- How the parents discuss the time sharing (phone, email, text message,…)
- How the parent and child communicate when not together (phone, email, text message, Skype, FaceTime,….)
- Which parent makes the specific decisions for medical treatment, education, or discipline.
- Notification time table for out-of-state or international travel
The terms of the Parenting Plan represent minimum amount of time that the minority time sharing parent may see the child. They are always allowed to ask for more time. Also, and very importantly, you are free to deviate from the terms of the Parenting Plan, so long as both parents agree to the deviation.
Careful attention needs to be paid to the time sharing schedule because of it’s impact on the Child Support Guidelines. The more nights the minority time sharing parent spend with the child (in excess of 73 nights per year), the lower the child support obligation. Each additional night will slightly lower the child support. It is very common for there to be such a reduction.
When determining a time sharing schedule, the judge starts with the assumption that it is in the child’s best interests to spend substantial time with both parents. However, this is not always the case.
The terms “sole custody” and “joint custody” have been renamed “parental responsibility.” Shared parental responsibility refers to the joint decision-making authority that most parents exercise – even those that are divorced. These decisions include: medical care, religious training, extracurricular activities, disciplinary matters, etc. When only one parent makes the decisions, they are said to have sole parental responsibility. Generally, the courts award sole parental responsibility only where the other parent is unable to exercise any authority due to addiction, incarceration, or other such situations.
Failure to agree on a time sharing schedule is one of the major reasons that cases become contested and go to trial (with the associated increase in cost). You should contact an contact an experienced time sharing attorney if you anticipate such problems in your case. If you and the other parent agree on the terms of the Parenting Plan, then you are much closer to being able to get an uncontested divorce or an uncontested paternity order.