Written by attorney Vera Bergermann

How to Resolve your Dispute over Parental Responsibility in Florida

Florida law divides parenting into two parts: time and responsibilty. Time is resolved by creating a parenting schedule which divides the children's time between both parents. Both a regular ("everyday") schedule and holiday schedules are addressed. Responsiblity is resolved by choosing either SHARED parental responsibility or SOLE parental responsibility in connection with the different areas of parenting responsibility, i.e., medical, educational, social.

"Shared" refers to the concept that both parents make all the decisions surrounding their children's education, health, and social life jointly. If they cannot agree, then they find some way to resolve their dispute--either through an informal method of their choice, a parenting coordinator, mediation, or (as a last resort), the judicial system. Neither parent has a greater "say" than the other parent.

"Sole" refers to the concept that one parent has sole decision-making authority in regard to the children's education, health, and social life. If the other parent doesn't like it, then the matter would have to rise to a level that the non-decisionmaker thinks is serious enough to bring before the court. The measuring level is the best interests of the child.

Parents also have the ability to divide the decisionmaking authority between shared and sole. One parent could have sole parental responsibility over medical issues. The other parent could assume that role for education. They could have shared parental responsibility over the children's social lives.

If both parents believe that she/he is the better decisionmaker, then the following concept could be used in a settlement agreement/parenting plan to resolve the dispute:

"Both parents shall have shared parental responsibility for decisions surrounding the children's health, education and social lives. In the event of a dispute between the parents in any of these areas, the parents shall first a consult a parenting coordinator. The parenting coordinator shall use his/her best efforts to assist the parents in coming to a resolution themselves. If the parenting coordinator cannot accomplish a resolution using mediation skills, then the parenting coordinator may make a non-binding decision in the manner of an arbitrator. If one of the parents does not agree with the non-binding decision and brings the matter before the court, then the parent who prevails in the court hearing shall have his/her attorneys' fees and court costs paid by the other parent."

The purpose of such a process for dispute resolution is to provide the parents with an opportunity to first resolve the dispute themselves with professional assistance. If that fails, then they can resolve the dispute by agreeing to the decision made by the parenting coordinator. If they wish to take it further, then there is a price to pay--the prevailing party's attorneys' fees. The court system is, thus, freed from unnecessary litigation and the parties are empowered to make their own decisions.

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