Proposed Bill Seeks to Standardize Parenting Plans for Unmarried Parties
Figuring out parenting responsibilities and visitation schedules are timesharing issues typically associated with divorce, but for unmarried parents, these matters are just as important, and are usually hammered out in court. All legally-recognized parents have rights that entitle them to see and make decisions related to their child. Exercising these rights occurs naturally in intact relationships but when parents separate, they must agree on a parenting plan, or ask a court to form one for them. Legal intervention is commonly sought when the division of timesharing is in dispute, and/or a party is worried about enforcing his/her legal rights as a parent. For unmarried parents, the first step in the timesharing process often starts with one parent seeking to force the other to pay child support. Since unmarried fathers are not presumed to be a legal parent, the law must declare them to be so before any parental rights or obligations may be enforced. The legal process to establish timesharing rights can be complicated for unmarried fathers in particular, and a bill was recently proposed in the state senate that would streamline this process so parents can start seeing their children faster. A discussion of this proposed bill, and how it compares to the current approach to establishing parenting plans, will follow below.
Current Method to Form a Parenting Plan
As noted above, parenting plans are created through agreement of the parties or by an order of a judge. However, even parenting plans completed by the parties themselves must be approved by the court before they are enforceable. The evaluation of an appropriate parenting arrangement hinges on what is in the best interests of the child. While equal division of parental responsibilities between the parties is preferred to promote frequent and continuing contact between the child and parent, the child’s best interests are still paramount. Determining what is in the best interests of the child requires the court to consider a number of factors that relate to the child’s interests and welfare, as well as the circumstances of the family. This approach means parenting plans are unlikely to be the same from case to case because each family’s situation is different, and thus the parenting plans become somewhat customized. By contrast, the proposed bill would remove this tailored approach to parenting plans in favor of one standardized plan for all families in cases involving unmarried parents.
Proposed Standardized Parenting Plan
The goal behind the proposed bill is to relieve some of the burden weighing on family courts, and to streamline the process for establishing parenting plans for unmarried parents so the non-custodial parent can see his/her child sooner. These parenting plans would be offered to unmarried parents seeking to establish or modify child support obligations through the Florida Department of Revenue’s child support program. The parenting plans would only be included with the child support order if:
- the child is over the age of three;
- there is no existing parenting plan; and
- the parents agree to the terms.
Otherwise, the parties would need to petition a court to create a parenting plan. Note that enforcement of these standardized parenting plans would still need to come through the courts, so some judicial intervention may be necessary. Two different time-sharing schedules are available – one for parents who live 100 miles or closer, and those that live greater than 100 miles apart. The frequency of the visits includes time on weekends, weekday evenings, holiday breaks and summer breaks. For example, the non-custodial parent would see the child every other weekend from Friday evening to Sunday evening. This time schedule would not take into account the needs of the child and the availability of the parents, so it may not be workable for everyone.
Talk to a Family Law Attorney
Timesharing rights over your child are some of the most important matters a parent can face in the legal realm. Given what is at stake, an experienced family law attorney should review your case to ensure you get the maximum amount of parental responsibility possible. The Fort Lauderdale law office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. can assist you with all your timesharing needs, from establishing paternity to enforcing parenting time. Contact the office today for a free consultation.