If a divorcing couple in Florida has minor children, courts require a parenting plan as part of the divorce process. The plan consists essentially of a custody agreement that covers important practical considerations.
The parents can submit their parenting plan as part of their uncontested divorce. They can also work with a mediator to agree on a plan during an otherwise contested divorce. In either of these cases, the court still has to approve the plan and may order a change in any provisions it deems not in the best interest of the children.
Parents must include certain elements
A Florida parenting plan must include a description of the ways in which the parents will share child-rearing responsibilities to ensure coverage of the key elements of the children's well-being, such as physical support, education, health and emotional needs. The plan must state how the parents will apportion decision-making authority for these issues as well as other foreseeable issues and activities. The plan must also set forth a detailed time-sharing schedule and method of communication.
Time-sharing does not mean equal time
The recent changes in Florida law focus on emphasizing that both parents should be involved and contribute to raising the children. However, this does not necessarily translate to a default of 50-50 custody. Physical custody only forms one part of a parent's relationship with the children. Courts look primarily to the best interests of the child, and, for a variety of reasons, splitting custody equally may not serve this objective.
The court determines the child's best interest
When deciding which arrangements will best promote the children's best interests, courts consider relevant issues such as what would be a more stable environment, access to schooling, developmental needs, relationship with each parent, whether either parent attempts to negatively influence the children against the other, and the parents' respective abilities to provide appropriate physical and emotional care. Judges may choose to listen to the children's preferences, but do not have to follow them.
When parents cannot agree, the court will step in and set up a parenting plan. The State of Florida has several default plans approved for use as templates.