Modifying Parenting Time Orders
When a couple with shared children decides to separate or divorce, there is almost always the need to strike a delicate balance between doing what is best for the children and agreeing to a custody and parenting time arrangement that both parents find tolerable and sustainable. Courts prefer that parents come up with their own agreement on these issues, assuming the parents will share responsibility for a child, but will step in if the parties cannot agree, or it is concerned the parents’ plans are not in the best interest of the children. Parenting plans establish how the parents will make decisions about the child and include a time-sharing schedule for when the child will stay with each parent. Further, it may include provisions about how the parents will handle issues surrounding the child’s education, health care and overall well being. Thus, the plan ideally is very forward looking and structured to address the changing issues that arise as a child grows up. Realistically, though, it is almost impossible to foresee all the life events that will change the needs of the child and the circumstances of the parents. Thus, Florida law allows parents to seek modification of a court-approved parenting plan, and an overview of this process will appear below.
Standard for Modification
The standard set forth under Florida law to modify a parenting plan is up to interpretation by each judge and requires a high bar of proof before a court will take action. However, this does not mean it is impossible to change the terms of a parenting plan, but the likelihood of success will be increased if the party seeking modification retains the services of an experienced family law attorney. Before a court will modify a parenting plan, a parent must produce evidence of a substantial, material and unanticipated change in circumstances, plus a determination by the court that modification is in the child’s best interest. Unanticipated changes present a particularly troublesome aspect of the modification, because often the problem is not a drastic difference in circumstances but rather how something that seemed okay when the parenting plan was drafted has turned out in practice to be detrimental to the child. It should be noted, though, that the law states that the best interests of the child should be the principal matter that drives the outcome. This additional facet of the law should balance out gaps or weak evidence in other areas.
Best Interests of the Child
A court decides what is in the best interests of a child by looking at a number of factors and the specific circumstances of the family in a particular case. These factors include:
- the ability of each parent to foster a close parent-child relationship, follow the time sharing schedule, and adjust when changes are necessary;
- the capacity of each parent to make decisions in accordance with the child’s needs and not the parents’ desires;
- the geographic viability of the parenting plan, particularly in regards to how it affects school-age children and how much time it would require the child to travel;
- the ability of each parent to provide the child a stable environment and consistent routine; and
- the specific needs of the child and the parents’ capacity to meet those needs.
Consult a Family Law Attorney
Any set of divorced parents knows about the difficulty of maintaining a relationship for the sake of their child, but it is hard to foresee all the changes and repercussions a parenting plan can have on the child when the parents put it together. The Fort Lauderdale law firm of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. understands the sensitive nature of parenting plans and will work to help your family find the best solution for your situation. Contact the office to schedule a free consultation.