In Florida, it is generally considered best for a child to have frequent and regular contact and a strong relationship with both parents. (There are obvious exceptions, such as when a parent is abusive.) When parents live together, regular contact between parent and child is easy to achieve. When parents live apart, however, either because they are divorced, separated, or never married, it can be more difficult to establish and maintain bonds between parent and child. Parenting time plans can help families establish a routine for spending time with their children, creating stability and certainty in a sometimes challenging situation. Is there such a thing as a “standard” parenting time plan in Florida?
There is, but parents are not required to use it. Parents know their own needs, and those of their children, better than a court or legislature can. Therefore, parents in Florida are encouraged to reach their own agreements regarding time-sharing (commonly referred to as custody).
Incorporation of Parenting Time Plans Into Administrative Child Support Orders
When parents get divorced, an order for child support and time-sharing is typically part of their divorce decree. However, not all child support is established through the court. When parents have not been married, for instance, child support may be established administratively by the Florida Department of Revenue Child Support Program.
As of January 1, 2018, the Child Support Program began incorporating parenting time plans that both parents agreed to and signed into administrative support orders or administrative orders establishing paternity. This development in the law was aimed at helping to promote strong relationships between parents and children by establishing a formal parenting time schedule and plan. As with a divorce settlement agreement, parents can agree on a parenting time plan.
What if the parents are unable to come up with a parenting time plan? Florida has established a Standard Parenting Time Plan (SPTP) to which they can agree. Essentially, the SPTP provides that one parent will have one evening a week and alternate weekends with the children of the parties. That parent will also have the children for two specified weeks during the summer. With the SPTP, the parents either alternate or split Thanksgiving, winter, and spring breaks.
The SPTP approximates what many parents, divorced and never-married, try to accomplish when creating a parenting time plan: to ensure that the children get to spend enough time with both parents to build and maintain a strong relationship with each of them.
Should You Use a Standard Parenting Time Plan?
The SPTP is a reasonably good option for parents who do not want to hammer out every detail of a parenting plan, or who are having a difficult time agreeing on the specifics. After all, the plan is designed to approximate the needs of most families and provide some predictability for parents and children.
In that sense, the SPTP is like a “one size fits all” garment: it will cover the needs of most people pretty well, but not nearly as well as something that is custom-made for them. Your parenting plan should reflect the unique needs of your family: your work and school schedules, the children's activities, any special needs. Although the SPTP might be an adequate option, it may not be the best one, and it is worth a little extra effort to make sure your parenting time plan is the best fit for your needs, and especially for your children's.
Certainly, parenting time can be modified. Depending on how old your children are when your first parenting time order is entered, it may need to be; the parenting time needs of a one year old are very different than those of a teenager. But modifying a parenting time order is not something that is easy to do, and for good reason: it is important for both parents and children to have some certainty about how parenting time will happen. Frequent changes are good for no one, especially children.
Whether you and your co-parent never married or are divorcing, it is to your advantage to establish a parenting time plan that works best for you and your children from the start. This may mean working with an experienced Florida family law attorney to craft the terms of your agreement. An experienced family law attorney can help you identify possible sources of stress for your children (like too-frequent transitions back and forth between homes) and times when it may make sense to be with one parent rather than the other. Then you can work together to customize a plan that will work best for your family.
If you have questions about creating a parenting time plan, we invite you to contact us at The Florida Divorce Law Group to schedule a free consultation so we can put our experience and knowledge at your service.