Module 7

Parenting Plans and Parental Responsibility

PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY


Statutory Requirement. Florida law requires that a Parenting Plan be approved by the court and describes how the parents will share and be responsible for the child's upbringing. The Timesharing Schedule specifies the time that the minor child will spend with each parent; a designation of who will be responsible for any and all forms of health care, school-related matters including the address to be used for school-boundary determination and registration, and other activities; and the methods and technologies that the parents will use to communicate with the child while the child is with the other parent.


Court Approved vs. Court Established. If you and your spouse or significant other are unable to agree on parenting arrangements and a Timesharing Schedule, a judge will decide for you. The judge will decide the parenting arrangements and timesharing based on the Judge's decision of what is in the children's best interests. Working together to create a Parenting Plan should be both parents main goal. Coming to agreements concerning your children is better for you in the long run, and also best for the children. You, as a parent, know the needs of your children, better than the court can know. 


If you and the other parent are unable to agree on parenting arrangements and a Timesharing Schedule, a judge will decide for you. The judge will decide the parenting arrangements and timesharing based on the children's best interests. To assist in making this determination, the Judge may request the appointment of a guardian ad litem in your case. This means that a neutral person will review your situation and report to the judge about parenting issues. The purpose of a guardian ad litem is to be sure that the best interests of the children are being upheld.


FLORIDA SUPREME COURT - SELF-HELP WEBSITE

The Florida Supreme Court has created a self-help page on its website, www.flcourts.org, where the public can get information about how a family law case works. Also included on the self-help page is a link to family law forms the Court has approved and published for public use. While the site is not intended as a substitute for legal advice, the forms and the the instructions for each form are designed for use by everyone and are especially helpful to individuals who wish to represent themselves. In Florida, a self-represented party is called a pro se litigant.


The most commonly used Parenting Plan form on Florida Supreme Court site is Form 12.995(a), On the self-help site, you and the other parent can find and download the Parenting Plan forms created by the Florida Supreme Court. While the facts of every case vary depending on the family relationships and family dynamics, this form is an excellent guide to use in creating your individualized Parenting Plan.


In addition to the Parenting Plan form 12.995(a) there are two more parenting plans that may better suit your family's situation. One of those forms is a Safety Focused/ Supervised Parenting Parenting Plan – form 12.995(b); and the other is a Long Distance Relocation Parenting Plan 12.995(c).


The Safety Focused/ Supervised Parenting Plan is used when you believe your children cannot be safely alone with the other parent or if you believe shared parental responsibility presents a detriment to the children. In this case, a Parenting Plan must be developed that allows time-sharing with any minor children, while providing protection for the children.


The Long Distance Relocation Parenting Plan is used when you are planning to relocate your or the children’s principal residence more than 50 miles from the principal place of residence.


CONTENTS OF A PARENTING PLAN

Every family is different. It is impossible to include every possible issue and situation that may arise in your particular case. The Parenting Plan should be detailed and address all factors related to Timesharing Schedule. The parties should give special consideration to the age and needs of each child.


At minimum, the Parenting Plan must describe:

How the parties will share and be responsible for the day to day responsibilities involved with the upbringing of the children. The Timesharing Schedule should specify the time, days, and time periods that the minor children will spend with each parent. A designation of which parent (or both parents) are to be responsible for any and all forms of health care, school-related matters, other activities, and the methods and ways that the parents will use to communicate with the children, when the children are with the other parent.


Parental Responsibility: Shared or Sole?. 

Florida judges and the Florida courts have a strong bias toward shared parental responsibility. As a matter of public policy, the courts and judges believe it is in the best interests of the children for the parents to discuss and jointly make all major decisions affecting the welfare of the children. Major decisions are things like education, healthcare, and other issues unique to your family. In cases where the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child, the court shall order sole parental responsibility for the minor child(ren).


Day-to-Day Decisions

Each parent shall make decisions regarding day-to-day care and control of each child while the child is with that parent. Regardless of the allocation of decision making in the parenting plan, either parent may make emergency decisions affecting the health or safety of the children when the child is with that parent. A parent who makes an emergency decision must share the decision with the other parent as soon as reasonably possible. For example, if a child is injured on the school playground during the week and while in the mother's care, it is the mother's responsibility to approve emergency medical care for the child; and let the father know as soon as possible. In this situation, the mother is not required to get the father's consent to medical treatment before having the child treated for the injury.


Extra-Curricular Activities

If parents wish to register the children and allow them to participate in extra-curricular activities, they should be able to agree on which activities and who will bear the costs. The Parenting Plan should set forth the terms governing these decisions. Some parents agree to pay for the child's extra-curricular activities when that parent registers the child for the activity. For example, if the father has the child for the summer, and enrolls the child in summer day camp, then the father pays for the day camp. Likewise, if the child is with the mother for most of the school year, and the mother enrolls the child in after school track and field, the mother pays for that extra-curricular activity. The main focus has to be, that the child does not miss out on enriching extra-curricular activities because the parents can't agree. 


Information Sharing

In a family with shared parental responsibility, unless otherwise indicated or ordered by the Court, both parents have access to the children's medical and school records and are allowed to independently consult with any and all professionals involved with the children. The parents must cooperate with each other in sharing information related to the children's health, education, and welfare. And parents must agree to sign any necessary documents to make sure that both parents have access to records. Each parent is responsible for obtaining records and reports directly from the school and health care providers. To be clear, it is not the responsibility of one parent to convey school information to the other parent, rather it is each parent's own responsibility to contact the child's teacher, guidance counselor, or school principal and set up his or her own school conferences. A parent may request that the school send a duplicate set of the child's report card or interim report. Both parents have equal rights to inspect and receive governmental agency and law enforcement records concerning the children. Both parents shall have equal and independent authority to confer with the children's school, day care, health care providers, and other programs with regard to the children's educational, emotional, and social progress. Both parents must be listed on school records and elsewhere as "emergency contacts" for the children. Each parent has a continuing responsibility to provide a residential, mailing, or contact address and contact telephone number to the other parent. Each parent must notify the other parent in writing within 24 hours of any changes.


Scheduling

For scheduling purposes, the most logical calendar to use is the school calendar. When the school calendar is published by the child's school, (usually sometime during the summer), both parents should obtain a copy of the school calendar for the next school year. The parents shall then discuss the calendars and the timesharing schedule so that any differences or questions can be discussed and worked out in advance.


Timesharing Schedule and Parenting Time:

The timesharing schedule is one of the most important issues addressed in a Parenting Plan. Parents who are separated or divorced are faced with many decisions about their children, especially the time the children will spend with each parent. The age and maturity of a child should be carefully considered, when working through the Parenting Plan. Parents need to understand the stages of development children go through and to be respectful of each individual child's temperament and development. It is the public policy of the State of Florida that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after divorce or separation, if at all possible. Parents are absolutely encouraged to share the rights, responsibilities, and joys, of child rearing. 


Both parents are equally entitled to do their best to exercise their parental rights and responsibilities. Many years ago, Florida followed a legal theory called the "tender years doctrine" which meant that when children were very young (tender years) it was best for the child to spend most of his or her time with the mother. Nowadays the tender years doctrine is considered a historic relic, and it is clear that both the father and mother are equally entitled to spend time with their children.


Parents must decide and put into writing where and with which parent the children will spend their time - weekdays, weekends, summers, and holidays. The more detailed the written schedule, the less likely there will be misunderstandings and disputes later. Decisions need to be made about transportation -- who picks up and who drops off -- and child exchange -- what time and where.


Transportation Costs:

Decisions may have to be made about who will pay for transportation costs. If the parents live near each other, it is sometimes easiest for each to pay for their own gas or transportation costs when taking the children to or fro. If the parents live far apart, more attention to transportation costs may be important. There may be far more driving involved, or it may be the best idea to have the children fly back and forth. And, in that case, if the children fly back and forth between parents, then agreements need to be made about not only cost, but when the children are old enough and mature enough to fly unaccompanied by an adult.


Foreign and Out-of-State Travel:

 If foreign and out-of-State travel is likely or desired, then the parents will need to make decisions concerning that travel and include the terms in the Parenting Plan. Parents may want to agree on the Parenting Plan that they will provide child travel documents to the other parent upon request. For example, if one parent wants to take the children out of state on vacation during his timesharing, the other parent will need to be informed of exact travel arrangements, itinerary, and may require a specific amount of time for advance notice. Similarly, if a parent wants to take the children out of the country during her timesharing, she needs to inform the other parent of exact travel arrangements, itinerary, and provide advance notice. Also, for traveling outside the United States, each parent needs to sign the child's passport application, and provide a notarized statement consenting to the other parent taking the child out of the country.


Communication:

All communications about the children should be between the parents. The parents are not to use the children as messengers to provide information, ask questions, or set up schedule changes. Both parents must keep contact information current. Telephone or other electronic communication between the children and the other parent, are not be monitored by or interrupted by the other parent. "Electronic communication" includes telephones, e-mail, webcams, video-conferencing platforms, or any other wired or wireless means or technologies. Some parents agree upon a daily or regular time for the other parent to communicate with the children while spending time with the other parent.


Childcare:

Parents should work together in choosing and agreeing upon child care providers; or agree to trust the other parent's judgment in choosing a child care provider independently. If a parent is going to be away from the children for an extended amount of time during their parenting time with the children, then that parent may want to offer the other parent the opportunity to care for the children before using a child care provider. Some people call this the “right of first refusal”. For example, if one parent during his or her timesharing, has an emergency, obligation, or work responsibility and they must attend to it, that parent contacts the other parent to find out if they are willing and able to take care of the child instead of hiring a child care provider or another relative to care for the child during that time. . 


Relocation:

Any relocation of the child(ren) is subject to and must be sought in compliance with section 61.13001, Florida Statutes. If either one of the parents plans to move, or moves to a new home at least 50 miles away, this is considered a relocation. Ideally, parents can agree on new terms of timesharing, otherwise a judge will have to decide what is best for the children. Usually, the parents must work our a new Parenting Plan, and use the Long Distance/ Relocation Parenting Plan form.


Dispute Resolution: 

Parents must try to cooperatively resolve any disputes which may arise over the terms of the Parenting Plan. Parents are allowed to make temporary and minor changes to the timesharing schedule, as long as both parents agree. When the parents cannot reach agreement, they may wish to use mediation or other dispute resolution methods before filing a court action.



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