Creating a parenting plan that focuses on the children’s best interest is essential for promoting children’s wellbeing after a divorce. Custody, or parental responsibility, entails more than just where a child will be living. In Florida, the law requires that separating spouses determine how divorced parents will share the responsibilities of raising their children. That means that beyond detailing when a child will be with whom, a parenting plan must also designate who will be responsible for providing healthcare for the child, who will deal with educational issues, how extracurriculars will be handled, and how the parents will communicate. This detailed plan should clearly indicate that the child’s or children’s best interest are being considered and showcase thoughtful consideration of the different aspects of rearing a child.
As you prepare to craft your own parenting plan, keep the following things in mind to help cut down on any potential back and forth. This can help ensure that you and your former spouse are able to create a parenting plan that works for your lifestyle and not have one imposed by a judge.
In Florida, the term “custody” has been replaced with the phrase “parental responsibility.” A parenting plan, then, details how parental responsibility will be adjudicated. One parent may have primary parental responsibility, while the other has supervised parental visits. Alternatively, and most commonly, parental responsibility may be shared. Where a child resides, how they will move between homes, and how they will communicate with the parent they are not currently with should all be included in an in-depth parenting plan.
When thinking about living arrangements, you’ll need to answer the following questions:
- Where will the child live?
- If splitting time between two homes, when will they be at each home?
- How (and when) will they be transported between homes?
- What items will stay in each home and which will be transported between homes?
Communicating with Child
One’s relationship with their child doesn’t stop or go on pause just because the child is with the other parent. For example, a child may want to tell the other parent about the test they just aced or some other life event. It’s important to think about how this will happen. Depending on the age of the child, they may have access to a cell phone or be comfortable using video call software to check in with the parent. Is this something that happens nightly? Occasionally? Is it up to the child’s discretion?
Life happens and changes will likely need to be made to the parenting schedule because of special or work trips and illnesses. Rather than addressing these issues as they arise, consider how communication will happen when a change must be made. Things like trips should be cleared in advance with the other parent so arrangements can be made if the schedule must be altered.
Maintaining adequate health coverage for your child is important. Will one parent have the child covered under their policy? Will both parents cover the child?
Beyond health insurance, it’s important to discuss how health decisions will be made. Will one person be responsible for making these decisions? Will they be made jointly? How will parents notify each other if emergency care is needed?
Parents of children with special needs should address any assessments that need to be done and arrangements for treatments, therapies, and special supplies.
For educational purposes, the child will need to use one address for school-related items and documents. This address may need to correspond with a particular school zone in order for the child to attend that school. Therefore, decisions will need to be made about which school the child will attend, how school absences or illnesses will be handled (who will care for the child?), and who will handle such things as parent-teacher conferences or other school events.
If your child or children participate in activities such as sports or band, they will need to have transportation and support. They may need items such as instruments or shoes to be able to participate or may be required to pay various fees. Having a clear agreement as to who will do what when it comes to extracurricular activities can help reduce friction and uncertainty. This includes talking about who will go to which games or recitals. Now, it isn’t possible to look into the future to determine which activities your child may want to participate in, so there may be a need to address new activities at a future date. Having some framework on paper can reduce that hassle and provide some guidelines for how such an event may be handled.
Your parenting plan will need to detail how and when travel information will be shared with the other parent. For example, perhaps travel details will be shared if the child is being taken out of state. The traveling parent will then be required to share emergency contact details and information regarding the length of the trip.
It is essential for parents to communicate. While this may seem difficult while embroiled in a divorce, it is essential for parenting together and ensuring the needs of your children are being met. Divorcing parents will need to agree on how they will communicate about the children. For example, an online platform that allows for messaging and has a calendar can make it easy to schedule school functions or pick up and drop off times. In addition, such a platform that maintains a historical record can be used in court if necessary.
Beyond how co-parents will communicate, it’s important to think about what will be communicated and when. Guidelines can help manage communication and reduce some of the stress. For example, saying that requests for adjustments to the parenting schedule need to happen two weeks in advance or that communication can only pertain to child’s life can help limit communication and keep it focused on your shared interest—the health and wellbeing of your child or children.
While flexibility won’t be written into the parenting plan, it’s important to understand that life happens and that your former spouse may show up 20 minutes late for a scheduled pickup. As long as this is not a common occurrence, being flexible will allow you to better manage the variances of sharing parental responsibility. It can also help you better adapt to your new relationship with your former spouse—one in which you are coparents with clearly outlined responsibilities. Reality requires some flexibility.
While having a support network is not part of the parenting plan, it can be a useful tool for ensuring one’s parenting responsibilities are being met. Having someone you can rely on for childcare should the need arise—or just someone to speak to—can help alleviate some of the stress you may feel implementing a parenting plan. In addition, speaking to a co-parenting coach or a therapist may help you adjust to your new arrangement and reduce some stress
Parenting plans are a vital component of divorces involving minor children and the expectations for these agreements has changed a lot over the past couple of decades. Divorcing parents should be prepared to share parental responsibility barring any mitigating circumstances such as domestic abuse, drug or alcohol dependency, criminal activity, or other negative factors. Understanding the different things one must consider when creating a parenting plan can make it easier to craft an agreement that works for both parents and that will require few modifications, if any, in the future.
This has been an overview of some of the things that must be included in a parenting plan. Ultimately, the items in a parenting plan will vary based on family dynamics. The best way to ensure that you have a parenting plan that will satisfy a judge is to speak to a Tampa divorce attorney with custody experience. A lawyer that has helped numerous parents navigate the intricacies of a parenting plan can help you negotiate with your former partner so you can create an agreement that works for everyone and that keeps your child’s best interest in mind. Schedule a free consultation today to learn more.