Florida Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements
This article covers custody agreements in Florida and gives guidelines on creating an effective parenting plan for Florida courts.
You can write up your own parenting plan (on your own or with the other parent) or you can work with an attorney or legal professional and have them create it. If you don't want to pay the high cost of an attorney, and want to easily make your own agreement, you can use the Custody X Change software.
Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting schedules.
Familiarizing yourself with the laws regarding child custody and visitation is imperative when creating a parenting plan in the State of Florida.
These laws can be found in the Florida Statutes, Title VI-Civil Practice and Procedure, Chapter 61. Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes contains the laws pertaining to the dissolution of marriage and child time-sharing.
Having knowledge of the laws will prepare you for the child custody process, what to expect in court, and will also enable you to create a parenting plan the court will look favorably upon and approve of, which will result in your parenting plan becoming a court order.
A parenting plan and a custody agreement are basically the same thing, but you should know the proper terminology for your state. In Florida, the custody agreement is called a parenting plan.
A parenting plan is a binding document created to govern the relationship between the parents pertaining to the decisions that must be made concerning their child.
Section 61.13 (2)(b) describes what you must include in your Florida parenting plan:
- A statement describing how you and the other parent will share and be responsible for the daily tasks associated with the upbringing of your child
- The time-sharing schedule arrangements that show the time your child will spend with each of you
- A designation of who will be responsible for health care, school related matters (including which address will be used for school-boundary determination and registration), and other activities
- The methods and technologies that each of you will use to communicate with your child
You can also include any more information that you think will benefit the child or help meet the child's needs. Sometimes parents find it helpful to think about ways to implement the plan and include those provisions in the plan.
For example, perhaps you and the other parent want to come up with a process for how you will resolve any disputes that come up. You can put that in your plan so you know what to do.
The court only creates parenting plans for families as a last resort.
The State of Florida's primary objective in a child custody dispute is upholding the best interests of the child or children involved in the case, and the court recognizes that it is usually better if the parenting plan is made by the child's parents.
There are two ways a parenting plan can be created for the court (§ 61.046.14(a), Fla. Stat. ):
- The parents can work together to create and agree upon a parenting plan that best meets the needs of their child.
- The parenting plan will be established by the court, with or without the approval of the parents, if the parents refuse to agree to a plan or submit a plan that is not accepted by the court.
The court lacks intimate knowledge of the personal relationships that parents have with their child, the day to day needs of the child, and the family dynamic in general. It is important that you make every effort possible to put your differences aside and work together to create the best plan possible for your child.
This will ensure the plan meets your child's specific needs.
The courts in Florida make all decisions regarding parenting and time-sharing according to what is best for the child. You need to make all of the decisions for your plan in the same way.
As you think about what is best for your child, you should consider the following factors in 61.13 (3):
- The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable about making changes
- How the parents plan to divide parental responsibilities after the case and the extent that the responsibilities will be delegated to third parties
- The capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent
- The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and if that environment should continue
- The geographic viability of the parenting plan and how long the travel times will be for the child
- The moral fitness of the parents
- The mental and physical health of the parents
- The home, school, and community record of the child
- The reasonable preference of the child, if the child is of sufficient intelligence, understanding and experience
- The demonstrated knowledge and capacity of each parent to be informed about the child's life, including knowing about the child's friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things
- The capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime
- The ability of each parent to communicate with the other parent and keep the other parent informed about issues and activities concerning the child, and the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child
- Evidence of child abuse, domestic violence, sexual violence, child abandonment, or child neglect from either parent or evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any of the above
As you can see, thinking about these factors can help you create a detailed plan that will really help your child thrive in the new family situation. Focusing your plan on your child can also help you put aside negative feelings for the other parent and come up with a shared solution.
Florida encourages parents to work together on their plan to come up with something that everyone can support. If you and the other parent are not able to agree on a plan, the court can order you to attend the Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course, parenting coordination, or to attend mediation. This can help you come up with a shared plan that provides for your child.
Parenting coordination is a program developed to help parents resolve their custody disputes. In any child custody and visitation dispute in the State of Florida, the court may order you to attend a parenting coordination program (§ 61.125, Fla. Stat. ).
If you cannot reach an agreement with the other parent, the court will appoint a parenting coordinator who will assist you in creating a child-focused parenting plan by providing education and serving as a mediator for dispute resolution.
Sometimes parenting coordination is beneficial to the parents trying to reach an agreement on a parenting plan, but occasionally it turns into a forum in which parents may argue and introduce additional issues into the case, lengthening the process.
If all methods for dispute resolution have been exhausted and an agreement still has not been reached, the court will take the recommendation of the parenting coordinator into consideration when creating a parenting plan for the child.
Parenting coordination in the State of Florida can be quite expensive. A retainer fee, (similar to that of an attorney), must be paid in advance and then you will be charged hourly for all work done by the parenting coordinator. The longer it takes to come to agreement on a parenting plan, the more costly the process will be.
If you or the other parent have retained attorneys, you will also incur addition fees from your attorneys for their time spent dealing with the parenting coordinator.
The court will decide whether one or both of you are responsible for paying the fees for parenting coordination.
Usually each parent is required to pay their own fees, but sometimes when one parent is being reasonable and making an effort to come to an agreement on a parenting plan while the other parent is being uncooperative, the uncooperative parent may be held accountable for paying all of the fees.
If you are unable to afford the fees, the court cannot force you to participate in parenting coordination unless public funds are made available to pay the fees (§ 61.125.6, Fla. Stat. ).
The best way to avoid the expense of parenting coordination is to make every effort to work with the other parent and create a parenting plan on your own.
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