If you are a parent, you have probably marveled at how your children have transformed as they learn, change, and grow. It seems that few things about a growing child stay the same, and that may include their needs around time with their parents. When you divorced or resolved a child custody matter in Florida, you received an order for time sharing that hopefully met the needs of your children—at that moment in time. Even if it was perfect for everyone at the time, however, your needs and those of your children may change, and you might need to seek a modification of the order. What does it take to change child custody in Florida?
How to Change an Order for Time Sharing in Florida
In Florida, child custody is often referred to as “time sharing,” because that phrase more accurately reflects reality: how parents share time with their children. As you can probably imagine, it is not always easy to change an order for time sharing. Children, especially young children, benefit from stability and predictability in their everyday lives. Constant changing of routines can make an already stressful situation much worse.
Therefore, courts will generally modify a time sharing order in only a few situations. The first is when the parents agree to modify their time sharing agreement. Maybe dad has a new job with different hours, mom started working overnights, or Junior joined a travel sports team. If the parents agree that a new arrangement will benefit them and their child, a court will generally approve that agreement unless the new arrangement is clearly not in the best interests of the child.
Whenever possible, making a new agreement regarding time sharing is preferable to battling the issue out in court. It is generally less expensive and less stressful for both parents and children, and parents may be more likely to get an outcome that they want and can live with. If you and your spouse are having trouble reaching agreement on your own, it's worth enlisting the help of an experienced Florida family law attorney to help you negotiate the fine points of a new plan.
If you and your child's other parent cannot reach agreement on a change in your time sharing plan, you may have to go back to court. In order to prevail if you are the parent seeking a modification, you will have to demonstrate a substantial change of circumstances. Unfortunately, the Florida Statutes do not specify exactly what constitutes a “substantial change.” Something that feels substantial to you may not be substantial in the eyes of a judge. Generally, the change must be material, and should have been unanticipated by either party. This might include a parent being transferred out of state for work or a parent being sentenced to jail, but these are only two of many possibilities. The proposed modification must also be in the best interests of the child.
It is one thing if you do not like your ex or wish that your child spent more time with you. It is another consideration entirely if your child is unsafe with the other parent. If you genuinely believe that your child is in danger when in the other parent's care, or you are threatened by the other parent, you should talk to a lawyer about filing a protective order. If a protective order is entered, the judge can also modify the custody arrangement to give you sole custody. A protective order is only temporary, but if you or your child are truly in danger, a protective order may be the quickest path to a change in time sharing and could buy you time to put in place a more permanent modification of custody.
When a Modification of Florida Child Custody is Not Appropriate
So, to sum up, there are three primary circumstances in which Florida child custody can be modified: parental agreement, a substantial change of circumstances making modification of custody in the best interests of the child, or a protective order.
Let's briefly discuss situations in which a modification of custody is unlikely to be granted. These are typically circumstances that feel like a big deal to the parent but do not rise to the level of a substantial change of circumstances. A parent might feel that time sharing needs to be changed because the other parent isn't “taking good care of” the child. Maybe the parent who wants a modification is careful to give the child regular mealtimes with balanced, healthy food, and the other parent is a bit more slapdash about eating times and keeps a lot of junk food around. That's a difference in parenting style, but it probably doesn't warrant a modification of custody.
Another situation in which one parent might think the time sharing arrangement needs to be changed is if the other parent gets into a relationship, especially if the child doesn't like the new partner. Unless the other parent or the new partner becomes abusive, or the other parent is neglecting the child's basic needs to spend time with the new partner, a change in custody is probably not appropriate.
If you have questions about whether a change to your time sharing and parenting plan is called for, we invite you to contact us at The Florida Divorce Law Group so we can answer your doubts and start helping you.