Divorce is a complex process and wrapping your head around it for the first time (or even a second time) can be overwhelming.
Let’s face it, there is a lot to take in, a lot of factors that come into play, especially if there are children involved.
There is a simple and easy-to-remember acronym that can help define the categories, order, and steps involved in a dissolution of marriage. That acronym is known as PEACE.
The P.E.A.C.E. Acronym in Family Law
During an initial consultation, one of the first things I explain to my clients who are considering going through a divorce, is the methodology that the courts follow to resolve issues in a divorce case.
Parenting Plans in Divorce Cases: The “P” in PEACE
The “P” in the family law PEACE acronym stands for Parenting Plans, which includes parental responsibility.
The P, being the first letter in the acronym, is the first of the factors (if minor children are involved) that the court considers.
If you have children, I am sure you can guess why P is the first part of the process.
It is considered (as it should be) the most important.
It is because if you have children, you know their health and well-being always come first.
The Parenting Plan portion of the process includes navigating through shared parental responsibility (i.e. decision-making as it relates to the children) and the establishment of a time sharing schedule which describes how much time the children will spend with each parent both during the school year and on holidays/school breaks.
Determining the terms of a Parenting Plan is often the most emotional aspect of a divorce case and thus, frequently it is the most contested issue in a divorce.
In the State of Florida, the “best interest of the children” is the standard by which a court will decide children’s issues.
It is always best for parents to determine what the Parenting Plan provisions should be, as they are the persons who know their children and the circumstances best.
However, if parents fail to agree on the terms of a Parenting Plan or if they decide on a Plan which contains terms contrary to the “best interest of the children”, then the court will step in and make a determination on Parenting Plan terms pursuant to the considerations prescribed within Florida Statute 61.13.
That being said, it is in the best interest of everyone to come up with reasonable compromises to reach an acceptable Parenting Plan, which includes determination of parental responsibilities and a time-sharing schedule.
How is Time Sharing Determined in Florida?
Money comes and goes but time and a healthy relationship with your children is… priceless.
This reason alone is why the establishment of Parenting Plan and a time-sharing schedule is one of the most important issues in your divorce or paternity case; if not THE most important issue.
There is a public perception that “50/50” time sharing (i.e. each parent gets 50% of the annual overnights with the children) is automatic.
That is not true.
The “best interest of the children” is what will ultimately determine (if parents cannot agree on their own) the appropriate time-sharing schedule and the division of duties and responsibilities.
Section 61.13 of Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes addresses parenting issues and provides courts with a guide to determine what a time-sharing schedule will be on a case-by-case basis. There are currently 20 factors that a court must consider when establishing a Parenting Plan and determining a time-sharing schedule.
Some of the factors that come into play when determining time sharing are:
- The capacity (as demonstrated) of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.
- The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
- The capacity (as demonstrated) of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime.
- The capacity (as demonstrated) of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.
- Whether or not there has been or is domestic violence involved in the household and the moral fitness of the parents.
- The home, school and community record of the children.
What legally should be in a Florida Parenting Plan?
The State of Florida requires parents to create a written parenting plan (previously known as a custody agreement) when they have minor children.
It is Florida public policy that each child involved have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after separation.
Florida also encourages the parents to share rights and responsibilities as well as the joys of child rearing. Plans should reflect this policy.
Most Florida Parenting Plans Include:
- A detailed description of terms regarding how each parent will share the responsibility for and decisions pertaining to the care of the children
- How many days and nights will be spent with each parent (Time-sharing schedule)
- Location of exchanges as well as dates and times they take place
- Vacations with each parent
- Travel outside of the state and/or country
- Address to be used for school designation
- Who will be responsible for health care and/or daycare
- The methods and technologies that each parent will use to communicate with each other and/or the children
Ultimately, how you and your spouse co-parent and decide to continue to care for your children after divorce is a decision that will impact your children for a lifetime and needs to be made with the utmost consideration of their best interests.
Next week we will be talking about the “E” in P.E.A.C.E.; the second factor that a court looks at when determining the issues to be resolved in a divorce case.
If you have any questions about Parenting Plans (previously referred to as Custody Agreements), Time-Sharing Schedules, or any other questions pertaining to divorce, please feel free to reach out to the KLK Family Law office.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog post on the “E” in PEACE: Equitable Distribution.