Custody is the term used to describe who makes healthcare, education and religious decisions for a minor child and when a minor child spends time with each parent. The State of Florida does not use the term custody. In its place are the terms parental responsibility and timesharing. The notion of timesharing and comprehensive parenting plans have replaced what individuals used to think of as child custody and child visitation. The court now seeks to fashion, without labels, how time is shared between parents and children, and what each parent’s prospective responsibilities are after the divorce is finalized.
The term parental responsibility details which parent should be making decisions about their minor children. State of Florida presumes that both parents are fit and able to make decisions for the minor children which means the parents would share parental responsibility for the minor children. With shared parental responsibility, the parents jointly discuss and make decisions for their children regarding all medical, dental, orthodontic, therapeutic, education, and extra-curricular activity issues. Generally, most parents are able to agree upon what they think is best for their children.
Sometimes, however, parents are unable to agree upon what is in the children’s best interests and they might agree that one parent has decision making authority over certain issues or the court may determine one parent has decision making authority to avoid additional court intervention. In this case, the parents would enjoy shared parental responsibility with one parent having decision making authority over certain topics such as medical issues or educational issues.
If a parent is designated as having decision making authority over certain issues, that parent is still required to confer and discuss with the other parent his or her requests and ideas. It is not a blank check to simply veto the other parent’s input.
At times, sole parental responsibility is awarded to a parent. This is very unusual and only happens when one parent is incapable of assisting in the decision-making process and his or her absence from the process is detrimental for the minor children. For example, if one parent has substance abuse issues and frequently disappears or is unable to remain in communication with the other parent, the other parent may be awarded sole parental responsibility to allow him or her to enroll children in school or obtain medical care.
The timesharing schedule determines when the children will spend time with each parent during the week, on weekends, for holidays and vacations. The timesharing schedule is usually included in a document that is prepared for every divorce with children called a parenting plan. The parenting plan enumerates all “custodial” issues. For example, the parenting plan will detail what type of parental responsibility each parent will enjoy with the children, what days during the week the children will spend with each parent, and where the children will go during holidays and vacations.
The timesharing schedule is broken down into several parts. It first states which days during the week the children spend with each parent. For example, the children might spend Mondays and Tuesdays with Mom and Wednesdays and Thursdays with Dad. It then states where the children spend weekends. For example, the parents may alternate weekends from Friday after school to Monday drop-off at school. This is an example of a 50/50 timesharing or an equal timesharing schedule. Thereafter, holidays such as Easter, Passover, Hanukkah, Christmas, Halloween, 4th of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day and other special holidays unique to the family are designated. Some families elect to split the holidays equally by alternating them each year or by sharing them each year. Other families designate some holidays and not others, leaving that holiday to the parent with timesharing on that day. For example, if your family celebrates Jewish holidays, you will designate when the children spend time with each parent for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, Passover and other Jewish holidays while days such as Easter and Christmas will be left undesignated, and the children will remain with the parent who is entitled to time on that day. Lastly, the timesharing schedule determines where children will spend time on school breaks such as Spring Break, Summer Vacation and Winter Break.
In most divorces, the parents determine what schedule would be best for the family, which is then written in the parenting plan and signed by both parents. If your spouse travels for work and is incapable of taking the children every other weekend, then you will work with your attorney to help fashion a timesharing schedule that will maximize the children’s time with each parent taking into consideration time constraints. Other parents such as firefighters and nurses have very specific schedules that require accommodation. The beauty of the parenting plan is that it can be as creative as needed to fit the unique needs of the family.
A common complaint during the divorce process is one in which during the marriage one spouse spent more time taking care of the children and the other spouse spent more time at work. This division of labor is natural and common. After the divorce process is initiated, the parent who spent more time working during the marriage will not be penalized for that division of labor by receiving less time with the children post-divorce. The court will give both parents the opportunity to spend as much time with the children as is possible. Conversely, if a parent insists on a timesharing schedule to reduce his or her child support obligations and then after the divorce is concluded does not exercise the timesharing, a modification can be sought and applied retroactively to the date the timesharing stopped.
If the court determines that one parent is a danger to a child due to alcohol problems, drug problems, criminal record, history of domestic violence or other mental health issues, then a supervised, safety-focused parenting plan with restricted timesharing, supervised timesharing or no timesharing can be developed and implemented. Florida’s current statutes regarding timesharing does not presume a 50-50 split in parenting time, though it does presume that both parents are fit to care for their children.