Articles Posted in Parenting Plans and Time Sharing

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It may not snow in Florida, but the feeling of the holiday season is already in the air. Every year at around this time, some radio stations begin playing Christmas carols around the clock, while on other stations, radio DJs snark about how Thanksgiving and the winter holidays are peak season for family conflict. It is true that holiday-related stress is a real phenomenon, as anyone who works in the mental health field can attest. If you have shared custody of children with your ex-spouse or former partner, though, there are things you can do to reduce the stress of co-parenting during the holidays. Specifically, Florida’s parenting plans, in their current version, contain clauses specifically designed to avoid conflict about holiday plans before they start.

How do Florida Parenting Plans Address Holiday Timesharing?

People whose parents divorced in the 1980s and 1990s probably remember that life settled into a rhythm, usually including living with Mom during the week and with Dad on the weekends, but that sparks always flew at Thanksgiving and Christmas, when extended family members visited, or when one parent wanted to take the children to visit out-of-town relatives during a holiday.  This is one of the major issues that Florida’s new parenting plans address. The parenting plan template has questions to address every school vacation, including winter break, Thanksgiving, and spring break. Parents can choose, as soon as they divorce, where the children will spend each holiday each year. For example, they can specify that, in odd-numbered years, the children will spend Thanksgiving break with Mom until Friday afternoon and then spend the rest of it with Dad, but in even-numbered years, they will be with Dad until Friday afternoon and then go to Mom’s house. Parenting plans even allow parents to allot certain times for children to stay with grandparents, and they can choose to grant certain holiday days to the grandparents.

In some ways, Thanksgiving is the simplest holiday to plan because it is always on a Thursday.  What about Christmas, which is always on the same date, but on different days of the week?  What about Hanukkah, which sometimes coincides with winter break and sometimes does not?  What about Islamic holidays, which, because the Islamic lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, vary not only by day of the week, but by month?  (For example, this year, both Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha were during summer vacation. In 2000, Eid al-Fitr was between Christmas and New Year’s.) Florida’s parenting plans were made to be customized.  You can specify that each parent gets the children for four nights of Hanukkah, and that if it falls during a school week, each parent gets one non-school night of the holiday. Continue reading

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Making decisions about major medical treatments such as surgery for a child can be stressful for any family, even one where the parents consider themselves happily married and generally able to make decisions together without major conflict. When parents divorce, all of the conflicts about parenting that they had when they were married become amplified. In the worst cases, the courts have to get involved to resolve their disputes. The current system of parenting plans in Florida is designed to prevent these major conflicts. The parenting plan form seeks to anticipate every possible scenario in which conflict might arise and decide beforehand which parent will have the final say in each type of parenting decision. The Angeli v. Kluka case shows why this system is important because, when it comes to consenting to non-emergency surgery for a child, one parent’s consent is all you need.

Details of the Angeli v. Kluka Case

When Alexander Girgis was 3 years old, he underwent adenoid removal surgery. (Adenoid removal surgery is a non-emergency surgery; it is quite common for children who suffer from recurrent ear infections or sinus infections when other treatments fail to resolve the problem.)  Dr. Evelyn Kluka is the surgeon who performed the surgery, and Alexander recovered without any complications. At the time of the surgery, Alexander’s parents were in the process of getting a divorce. Alexander’s mother was the legal guardian who consented to the surgery, since medical treatments on minor children require a parent’s consent. Continue reading

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It is a great relief to many that the stigma surrounding seeking treatment for mental illnesses has lessened as much as it has in recent years. In many circumstances, mental health treatment has become routine even for patients who do not exhibit particularly alarming symptoms. In fact, recent statistics show that nearly 20% of American adults have been diagnosed with a mental illness at some time in their lives. If that is surprising, it is because the same privacy laws that protect nearly all health information also apply to mental health.

Unfortunately, though, things can get ugly in a divorce, especially when parents disagree about child custody arrangements. One parent sometimes argues that the other parent is unfit to spend a majority of the time with the children because of a pre-existing diagnosis of a mental health condition. If your former spouse does bring up your mental health history during divorce proceedings, will it affect the outcome of the case? Usually, it does not.

When Your Mental Health History Does Not Affect Parenting Plan Decisions

Under Florida’s current system of parenting plans, no two custody agreements are alike. The parenting-plan form is a multi-page questionnaire as long and complex as the longest tax forms.  Each decision regarding the children is a separate question; it is not simply a matter of one parent getting all or most of the custody of the children. The parents’ private health information usually does not factor into which decisions the judge approves in the parenting plan. The main goal is to cause as little disruption in the children’s lives as possible. Consider that, if a parent were undergoing treatment for a physical illness while the parents were married, most of the time it would not be a factor in the parenting agreement. The same usually applies to mental illnesses.  Furthermore, the parent’s psychiatrist cannot be asked to reveal the parent’s private health situation in court, except in the case of a true emergency, such as a suicide attempt or involuntary hospitalization. Continue reading

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Child support is supposed to cover a child’s basic needs, such as food and shelter. What about educational expenses, though? Education is hardly a luxury; school attendance has been mandatory for American children for well over a century. Providing for a child’s education is an important aspect of parenting. Thus, Florida parenting plans include provisions about which parent is responsible for making various decisions related to the children’s education. What happens when parents divorce while their children are enrolled in private school?

The Children’s Best Interest

Every question related to a parenting plan is, at its core, about the best interest of the children.  Education is one aspect of child-rearing about which parents are likely to have strong opinions.  Some parents feel that sending children to a private school, even if it requires great financial sacrifice on the parents’ part, is the only way to ensure that the children study in a safe environment where teachers are genuinely invested in the children’s success. Others feel that private school tuition is an unnecessary expense and that parents could help their children more simply by saving money to help them with college tuition and other expenses related to early adulthood. The education issue is a perfect example of why parenting plans are individualized and not one size fits all. Continue reading

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When Floridians move out of state, for example, to attend an out-of-state college, they can find plenty of reasons to brag to their buddies from other states. I swam in an alligator-infested river and lived to tell about it! Yes, people flaunt their cosmetic surgery-enhanced bodies on Florida beaches every day, even Christmas! I have had a driver’s license since my 16th birthday, and I have never once parallel parked, not even on my driving test! The last boast is what makes your buddies do a double-take, since the other Florida quirks are quite famous. It is entirely possible to get a driver’s license in Florida without learning how to parallel park; almost everywhere has a parking lot or parking garage, anyway. What you do need to do in order to get a driver’s license in Florida before you can take the test to get your license is complete a one-day course about traffic safety and Florida traffic laws.

What has any of this to do with divorce in Florida? It turns out that many Florida divorce cases require parenting classes. In fact, mandatory parenting classes in Florida divorce cases are almost as routine as the one-day class for new drivers in Florida.

Mandatory Parenting Classes in Florida

It is common for Florida family courts to require Florida couples going through a divorce to complete the Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course before the judge will sign the final divorce decree. In fact, Florida courts require it of every divorcing couple that has minor children. Additionally, when a man who is not married to his child’s mother establishes paternity, the court requires both parents to complete the course. Continue reading

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You have probably heard about divorced couples engaging in bitter legal battles over which one of them will have custody of the couple’s children. You might also know someone who stays in an unhappy marriage because he or she fears that, upon divorce, he or she will be ordered to pay hefty child support payments and have the court meddle in his or her finances for years, while being forced to give up the rights to make decisions about his or her children’s upbringing. In reality, child custody is rarely an all or nothing situation. Likewise, Florida courts do not impose child support obligations as a way to punish parents. In making decisions about custody and child support, judges are to consider the children’s best interest above all else and to determine how to promote the children’s interests in a way that is feasible for both parents.

There is No One Size Fits All Parenting Plan

It is rare in Florida that judges award sole custody of the children to only one parent.  Besides, the word “custody” has more than one meaning in Florida law.  Physical custody refers to where and with whom the children reside most of the time, whereas legal custody refers to who has the authority to make important decisions about the children. Legal custody includes the right to choose which school the children attend, which medical treatments they receive, and which religious activities they participate in, among other important decisions. It is technically possible for one parent to have more time with the children while the other has the last word about their education and extracurricular activities. Continue reading

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Never a truer statement has been made then “the buck stops here”, when dealing with time sharing issues in a divorce case.  What this means is that the judge must have the final word in all issues which affect minor children, and he does not have the legal authorization to delegate that responsibility to any third party, including a therapist.

The animosity between parents can lead to difficult situations with their minor children.  When a parent’s anger adversely affects the minor children, that particular parent may end up with restricted contact with their minor children.  When one parent suffers from anxiety or depression, their behavior may have adverse effects on their children.  In either one of these scenarios, a therapist might be called in to intervene, and make recommendations to the court as to future prospects for time sharing, if a parents rights have been temporarily restricted.

In Grigsby v. Grigsby, 39 So 3rd 453 (Florida 2nd DCA 2010), the mother suffered a suspension of her time sharing with her children.  The trial court failed to delineate what was required of the mother in order to reestablish her time sharing.   As a result of the trial court’s failure to delineate, the decision was reversed on appeal.

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The current law in Florida provides that a parent cannot relocate or change the location of their principal residence if that change of residence will be more than 50 miles from their current residence.  If a spouse is considering a move that is more than 50 miles away, they must obtain either the written consent of the other spouse, or seek approval from the court.  The relocation provisions of Florida law are found in Florida Statute 61.13001.

In the absence of a statutory or contractual provision to the contrary, the proper method to measure the distance between 2 points is the straight line or quote as the crow flies” measure. If the distance using the straight-line test measurement is less than 50 miles, a move can be made by one parent without consent from the other parent or approval from the court. This would be true even if the move is 49 miles away.

However, simply because a move is less than 50 miles away, does not mean that other aspects of a parenting plan would be effected.  A move 49 miles away would most definitely effect the school boundaries, and therefore the school that the minor child would attend.  Does this mean that the moving or relocating parent has a right to change schools without obtaining the other parent’s consent?

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A parenting plan is a written contract between the parents of minor children.  Parenting plans are subject to court approval.

At a minimum, a parenting plan must include the following: (1) A description as to how the parents will share and be responsible for the daily tasks associated with the upbringing of the child; (2) the time sharing schedule arrangements that specify the time that the minor child will spend with each parent; (3) which parent will be responsible for health care; (4) school related matters, including the address to be used for school boundary determination and registration; (5) other activities that the minor child may be involved with and who shall bear the expense of those activities; (6) the various methods in which the parents shall communicate with the child.

A parenting plan can be as detailed as the parents require, and can provide for any specific situation concerning the family.

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It is understandable that some spouses who are divorcing are not necessarily in the mindset to cooperate with one another. After all, fighting and disagreements have likely played a role in the decision to end their marriage. However, refusal to come to an agreement regarding one or more issues in a divorce can cause serious delays and can increase the cost of a divorce.

Before a court will grant your divorce, you and your spouse must settle numerous issues including:

  • Property and debt division;
  • Child support;
  • Time-sharing and visitation;
  • Parenting plans;
  • Alimony.

If any one of those issues cannot be settled out of court, the divorce can be delayed as the court will have to decide for you. You and your spouse will have to present evidence to support your arguments for how you want to resolve the issue at trial and the judge will rule on the matter.

A recent divorce case demonstrates just how much a divorce case can be affected by adversarial disputes instead of cooperation. After 25 years of marriage, the wife of the founder of Cancer Treatment Centers for America filed for divorce. The filing occurred in 2009 and the case is still dragging on due to several disagreements regarding a prenuptial agreement, custody, and division of their millions of dollars in assets. The case has involved numerous hearings, appellate hearings, changes of lawyers, contempt orders, and other complications, and is now finally going to trial over asset and property division. In the meantime, both spouses have likely spent an enormous amount of money, stress, and time dealing with the divorce proceedings and have been unable to remarry since their marriage is not yet dissolved after more than six years. Continue reading