Discussing when and how to divide child custody and visitation is one the more contested issues when couples decide to separate and divorce, as it is a topic central to being a good and present parent. Forming compromises that adequately address the needs of the child and the rights of the parents is a difficult process, but Florida law requires all divorcing parenting to create a parenting plan. A parenting plan lays out the duties and responsibilities of each parent and includes a time-sharing schedule so that both parents know when the child will stay in each household. Crafting a parenting plan that will work through all stages of a child’s life is exceedingly hard because inevitably circumstances will arise that greatly change the needs of the child and the ability of the parents to maintain the same arrangement. Wanting to make changes to custody and/or time-sharing schedules during the school year can be especially difficult as parents try to balance what works for all parties with the need to provide consistency for the child. However, sometimes changes are necessary, but in order to protect the interests of the child and rights of parents, modifications of parenting plans should be approved by the court.
Basic Standard for Modification
The legal system always wants to promote cooperation among parties because it lessens the likelihood of a dispute, so if the parents are able to agree on changes to the parenting plan, they are not technically required to get court permission. However, these changes should be memorialized in writing and submitted to the court to ensure each parent knows what their obligations are, and to protect against one parent later claiming there was no agreement. If the parents cannot agree on changes or a parent refuses to even consider altering the current arrangement, the only option is to get a court order modifying the parenting plan. Note that a judge will not decide on a petition for modification until a hearing is held where each party has an opportunity to present his/her side.
Florida law states that any change to parenting plan or time-sharing schedule is only permitted if there is a “substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances.” This standard is fairly ambiguous, and what it means in practice can vary from judge to judge, but basically, there needs to have been some change that is fairly permanent the parties had no way of anticipating when the original parenting plan was created. However, like all family law cases, the ultimate deciding factor is what in the best interests of the child.
Circumstances that Warrant Changes
Because the statute does not define what a substantial, material, or unanticipated change is, courts must look at the facts of each individual case to determine if a change is justified. Looking at past cases, circumstances that would likely justify a modification of the parenting plan include:
- efforts by one parent to alienate the child from the other parent;
- failure to comply with the parenting plan;
- a parent’s interference with other parent’s time with the child;
- blocking a child from calling the other parent;
- making false accusations of abuse against the other parent; and
- misleading the court in order to gain custody.
Contact a Family Law Attorney
If you have concerns about your current parenting time plan or wish to make changes, speaking with a knowledgeable family law attorney can help by informing you about your legal options and the procedure that is best suited to meet your goals. The Tampa Bay law firm of All Family Law Group, P.A. will work to tailor child custody and visitation arrangements that are best for you and your child. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
By Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+