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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, May 1, 201905:10 AM EST

Commentary: Divorce: Don’t put the children in the middle

The law allows for timesharing and regular and predictable contact that can be of great comfort to a child.

As a family law attorney, I frequently work in matters that deal with timesharing, especially when meeting with Spanish-speaking clients who may have different ideas about how the law should treat timesharing with the children.

When parents are arguing, separating and ultimately divorcing, timesharing can be a contentious issue. It is important for me to explain to my clients that establishing a fair timesharing schedule, one that gives the child the benefit of having both parents in their lives, is in the best interest of the child (this is in loving relationships and excludes parents accused of abuse or neglect).

Both parents have the same right to spend time with, or timeshare with, their children. Once the parents agree on a timesharing schedule, we create a parenting plan. 

According to Fla. Stat. § 61.13, a parenting plan must include how the parents will share and be responsible for the daily tasks associated with the upbringing of the child; and timesharing schedule arrangements that specify the time the minor child will spend with each parent.

But parenting plans are not used only in divorces. In Florida, child visitation can be established and modified for unmarried parents as part of a paternity case (Fla Stat. § 742).

The mother is the sole legal guardian of a child born to unwed parents, but a father who wants to establish his rights of contact, timesharing and parental responsibility can file a petition to establish paternity.

Once paternity has been established, unwed parents no longer living together can establish a parenting plan using the same or similar documents filed by divorcing parents.

Establishing a timesharing schedule and parenting plan can play a crucial role in establishing a routine. Regular and predictable contact with both parents can be a great comfort to a child who was fearful of losing contact with a parent due to divorce. It allows the child to see and experience that they will have a relationship with both parents even though they are divorced.

In considering issues of timesharing between parents, the primary concern for Florida courts remains the “best interest of the child.”

The legislature has outlined the factors for the courts to consider in determining the best interests of a minor child. For example, the court will consider the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, the moral fitness of the parents, and the geographic viability of the parenting plan.

Special attention is paid to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the parenting plan and, depending on the age of the child, the court may consider the reasonable preference of the child.

For a complete list of the factors, see Fla. Stat. § 61.13(3).

Sometimes, there is a need to change the established parenting plan. For these cases, the courts have established procedures for this process.

The following pleadings may be useful to a client seeking a change in the parenting plan filed when their case was finalized: Supplemental petition for modification, petition for relocation, petition for temporary modification, and/or petition for temporary relative custody.

Modifying a timesharing arrangement and parenting plan opens a new matter in the divorce history. In many cases, parents may seek legal counsel when filing one of the pleadings mentioned above.

While most of my clients come seeking assistance in a divorce matter, many come to modify their parenting plan because of events which were unforeseen when the initial plan was finalized.

Mercedes Blason Aguilar is an attorney at Parra Harris Law, focusing on family law-related matters.

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