What is the purpose of a parenting plan in a Florida divorce proceeding? The legislature answered the question, in part, when it passed Fla. Stat. § 61.13(2)(c)(1). That section provides:
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. There is no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule when creating or modifying the parenting plan of the child.
A parenting plan is intended to encourage "frequent and continuing contact" between both parents and their child during and after a divorce proceeding. To achieve this, Florida courts are tasked with approving or implementing a parenting plan that addresses issues fundamental to raising a child. By that, parents in a divorce who have a minor child can develop and agree to a parenting plan which the court can, in its discretion, approve, reject or modify. However, if the parents are unable to agree to a parenting plan, then the court can establish a plan on its own which will dictate the terms of the relationship and responsibilities between the parents and the child.
Parenting plans address issues commonly referred to as "custody," "parental responsibility" and "visitation." Florida Statute § 61.13(2)(b) sets out the minimum requirements for the issues that must be addressed in a parenting plan. These include:
- A description "in adequate detail" on how the parents will share daily tasks associated with the upbringing of a child;
- A time-sharing schedule that spells out the time the child will spend with each parent;
- A designation of who will be responsible for healthcare, school-related matters and other activities;
- Methods and technologies the parents will use to communicate with each other and with the child; and,
- File a Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) form.
When establishing a time-sharing schedule, the parties must agree (or the court will establish) the time that the minor child will spend with each parent, including overnight visits and holidays. See Fla. Stat. § 61.046(22). Regardless of whether the parties agree, the court ultimately decides whether to approve the time-sharing schedule.
Under a parenting plan, parents can have either shared or sole parental responsibility. Shared parental responsibility is preferred and encouraged. Through shared parental responsibility, both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities concerning the child. Further, both parents confer with each other so that major decisions affecting the welfare of the child will be determined jointly. See Fla. Stat. § 61.046(17). Sole parental responsibility, on the other hand, exists where a court orders one parent to make decisions regarding a minor child. Fla. Stat. § 61.046(18).
When discussing the terms of a parenting plan, there are a couple of important points to consider. For instance, on several occasions courts have rejected parenting plans that improperly delegate decision making authority to a third party. In Grigsby v. Grigsby, 39 So. 3d 453 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010), the appellate court found it improper to allow a father, in consultation with third party professionals, to decide when or whether to allow the mother to have time-sharing of the child. Also, parents are entitled to procedural due process protections when a court is considering a parenting plan. For example, in Douglas v. Johnson, 65 So. 3d 605 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011), the Second Circuit reversed an order concerning a parenting plan where the trial court did not give both parents the opportunity to present witnesses or testimony on their own behalf.
Parenting plans provide parents with the opportunity to agree between themselves as to how they will raise their children during and after a divorce. However, if the parties cannot agree on a parenting plan, the court will order one for them. It is clearly in the parents' best interest to try to reach a consensual parenting plan that both parents can live and is in the child's best interests. Regardless of whether the parties agree to a parenting plan or the court drafts the plan, a parenting plan must address the minimum requirements called for in the statute, including time-sharing, healthcare and methods of communication.
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